Last month, social media influencers were invited to the grand opening of a brand-new shoe store called Palessi. They admired the workmanship and trendy styles that were offered and decided they'd pay hundreds of dollars for a single pair — and they did. Then they were informed that the "luxury" boutique they were excited about was actually a discount footwear retailer in disguise: none other than Payless itself. It was savage. Here's how it all went down.

Payless took over a gutted Armani store in an upscale mall in Santa Monica, California. It stocked the shelves with $19.99 – $39.99 heels, boots, and sneakers, stripped the products of the Payless logos, and replaced them with its new alter-ego: Palessi.

How it begins. Palessi pop up. Los Angeles. #palessi

A post shared by Palessi (@palessi_shoes) on

The retailer then invited groups of influencers to the mock "grand opening" for an exclusive "first look" at the products.

The line to get in to Palessi’s Los Angeles pop up party!

A post shared by Palessi (@palessi_shoes) on

It looked to the influencers for their opinions, as influencers typically decide what's hot and what's not. "They’re elegant, sophisticated," one shopper boasted about a pair of floral heels.

And the boots.... #palessi

A post shared by Palessi (@palessi_shoes) on

The same heels are posted on the brand's site as part of the Payless x Christian Siriano collection and are currently on sale for about $10.

Another shopper raved about a pair of faux-leather high-top sneakers. "I can tell it's made with high-quality material," he said.

The style is available for just $30 on the Payless website.

According to Adweek, within a few hours, Palessi had reportedly sold about $3,000 worth of shoes. Some pairs sold for $200, $400, and $600, with the top offer falling in at $640. That's about a 1,800 percent markup.

Palessi Angel. #palessi

A post shared by Palessi (@palessi_shoes) on

"The campaign plays off of the enormous discrepancy and aims to remind consumers we are still a relevant place to shop for affordable fashion," Payless chief marketing officer Sarah Couch told Adweek.

The videos of the "social experiment" debuted last week and are part of a "multimillion-dollar" series of ads airing on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and cable networks including BET, Lifetime, MTV, and TBS. So expect to see more of this savage prank in the coming days, weeks, and months.

People have a lot to say about the prank, calling it some "elite level finesse" from the brand.

Many are giving props to the marketing department for this tomfoolery.

Others are pointing out how the experiment really highlighted the inauthenticity of "influencers" in this day and age.

The ad campaign is receiving tons of traction on social media. Even celebs are commenting on the tactic. Questlove, drummer for The Roots, called it "champion trolling."

Eventually, Payless let the influencers in on the joke and refunded their money, but the brand let them keep the shoes for good measure. No word yet, though, on whether or not their pride has been restored.

Moral of the story? Branding is often more about perception than style, quality, or functionality. Oh, and you can't trust influencers.

photo: MTV

"Payless customers share a pragmatist point of view,” Cameron said in a statement. “We thought it would be provocative to use this ideology to challenge today’s image-conscious fashion influencer culture."