The North Face has landed itself in hot water after gaming Wikipedia to get images of its products at the top of Google search results.
The bizarre stunt was part of an offbeat ad campaign created in partnership with agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made in which The North Face replaced travel-related images on Wikipedia with similar photos of its own — but with North Face gear included, Ad Age reported.
The effort was inspired by the knowledge that before going on a trip, many people Google the location and then hit Images, with a picture from Wikipedia’s site often appearing at the top of results. With this in mind, The North Face entered Wikipedia’s site and swapped a number of travel-related photos with its own images taken at the same locations, the only difference being that the new pictures included models wearing North Face gear. It was these photos that started to appear at the top of Google search results.
The ad campaign, called Top of Images, is fully explained by The North Face in a brazen video that kicked off with the question: “How can a brand be the first on Google without paying anything for it?”
It went on to say: “We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: The top of the world’s largest search engine … Paying absolutely nothing, just by collaborating with Wikipedia.” And that’s where it all unraveled for The North Face, as Wikipedia was quick to insist that it gave no such permission.
In a blunt statement, the nonprofit organization said The North Face and the ad agency had “unethically manipulated Wikipedia.”
It continued: “Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims. In fact, what they did was akin to defacing public property, which is a surprising direction from The North Face.”
The organization said, “When The North Face exploits the trust you have in Wikipedia to sell you more clothes, you should be angry. Adding content that is solely for commercial promotion goes directly against the policies, purpose and mission of Wikipedia to provide neutral, fact-based knowledge to the world.”
Wikipedia’s volunteer editors have since taken down The North Face’s photos and replaced them with the original images, or cropped out the company’s logo if the original picture was unavailable.
The North Face has since apologized and ended the ad campaign, while at the same time promising to properly train its employees and partners about Wikipedia’s site policies. Responding to the apology, some on Twitter said The North Face should make a donation to Wikipedia equal to the value of the free advertising it received.
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