Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Scott Thorne looks at the recent Payless promotion and how stores and companies can use Framing to enhance perceived value.

You may have read about the recent promotion Payless Shoes did to both promote the quality of its shoes and garner millions of mentions on social media.  In case not, here is what the company did.

Payless has been around since the late 1950s and has a reputation as a mall staple store and a bit of a stodgy retailer.  Wanting to revitalize its reputation and attract a new generation of shoppers, the company partnered with advertising agency DCX Growth Accelerators to pull off the Palessi stunt, which the agency pulled together in about two months.  Although what DCX and Payless did is probably beyond the financial capacity of most members of the game industry, it still has some useful lessons regarding the use of framing to influence customers.

DCX rented a former Armani location in Santa Monica, CA for a couple of months and recreated it as a "bespoke" shoe emporium with gold mannequins, indirect lighting, model-quality shop assistants and upscale accoutrements befitting (as the company said) "a Prada store rather than a  shopping mall staple."  The company then sent out invitations to groups of "fashion-forward social media mavens," inviting them to attend the opening of the new store.  Once there, the influencers were offered shoes tagged with markups as much as 1,800% and asked to estimate the value of other shoes, which a customer could purchase at a regular Payless for $19.99 to $39.99.  The fashionistas described the shoes as "elegant,"  "classy," "sophisticated,"  and "stunning," and estimated prices ranging from $400 to $680, and in a number of cases spent that much to purchase the shoes (after the purchase, customers were told the actual price of the shoes, given a refund and allowed to keep the shoes).

So what can the game industry take away from this?  It is cost prohibitive for most stores or publishers in the industry to pull off a promotion like this but there are two lessons regarding presentation and framing a store that we can take away from it:

  1. Surroundings matter.  By surrounding a product with accoutrements that the customer perceives as high quality, its surroundings generate a halo effect that carries over to the product.  You could put a heavily played Black Lotus in a display case, but that doesn’t tell anyone, except for avid Magic players, that it is a valuable card.  However, putting the same card in the display case with a black velvet pad underneath it and enhanced with indirect lighting and everyone knows automatically that is a valuable item.  You could put a common Magic: The Gathering card in similar surroundings and customers unfamiliar with Magic would think it valuable.  Similarly, Payless surrounded its shoes with the framing customers associated with a high-end shoe store and customers responded.
  2. Perception matters.  Attitudes that staff have towards the product influence the perception customers have towards it.  If a staff member is an avid Magic player but has little to no interest in board games, when that staffer works with a customer to sell a board game, that lack of interest will come through, influencing the way in which the customer views the game.  Similarly, the way in which a game is displayed in a store influences the customer’s perception.  Face out looks better than spine out and an organized display with a theme, even a basic one, always looks better than a random stack on a shelf.  Payless framed its inexpensive shoes with expensive atmospherics and customers perceived them as thousands of times more valuable.

In short, while you probably won’t get on Today or Good Morning America and Questlove will probably not retweet you, improving your framing will generate more sales, which is overall more important.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of