SALT LAKE CITY — If you want to market your product, don’t mess with Wikipedia to do it.
That’s the message site moderators are sending this week after The North Face switched out several Wikipedia photos for photos featuring North Face products.
In a video about the stunt, which was republished on AdAge, The North Face boasts about doing “what no one has done before” and getting free advertising at the top of Google searches.
The video shows a shortened walkthrough of how North Face photographers and members of the ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made took photos of people using North Face products in scenic places and switched them out with the photos on associated Wikipedia pages.
“We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top of world’s largest search engine,” The North Face said in the video, adding that they paid “absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.”
The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia, had something entirely different to say about the move.
“They have risked your trust in our mission for a short-lived marketing stunt,” Wikimedia said in a statement.
“When The North Face exploits the trust you have in Wikipedia to sell you more clothes, you should be angry,” they added. “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.”
The Foundation asserted that Wikipedia and Wikimedia did not collaborate on the project with The North Face as they claimed and that “what they did was akin to defacing public property.”
Wikimedia called it a “surprising direction” from the outdoor gear brand, as their mission is to “‘support the preservation of the outdoors’ — a public good held in trust for all of us.”
The North Face issued an apology on Twitter Wednesday, stating, ”We believe deeply in@Wikipedia’s mission and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles. Effective immediately, we have ended the campaign and moving forward, we’ll commit to ensuring that our teams and vendors are better trained on the site policies.”Comment on this story
Wikipedia moderators updated the page for The North Face on their site, writing, “In May 2019, The North Face's advertising agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made used Wikipedia to try to promote their products in Google search results as part of an advertisement campaign. Their actions violated Wikipedia's term of use on undisclosed paid editing.”
Wikipedia volunteers reportedly removed The North Face’s images and cropped out their logo in altered photographs. They’re currently evaluating affected articles to ensure neutrality and reliable sourcing has been maintained.