Clothes brand North Face has bragged about scoring free ads and top Google rankings by swapping scenic photos on Wikipedia for pictures of their clothes and calling it a “collaboration.” Wikipedia says their site was “defaced.”
The outdoor-wear outlet North Face let the world know they had gamed the free internet encyclopedia in an surprisingly honest video on Tuesday.
We photographed our brand in several adventurous places, then we switched the Wikipedia photo for ours.
While you might imagine the company would want to keep their guerrilla ad campaign quiet, or that they would at least feel a slight tinge of shame for co-opting a public information tool to enrich themselves, in their epicly soundtracked celebratory video they instead present themselves as genius entrepreneurs and adventurers for coming up with the idea.
We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top of the worlds largest search engine, paying absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.
However, much like Natalie Portman rebuffing Mobys claims that they had once dated, the Wikimedia Foundation, which maintains the reference-site, says it was less like a collaboration, and more like the brand “defacing public property.”
Wikipedia and the @Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claimed. In fact, what they did was akin to defacing public property. 4/
— Wikipedia (@Wikipedia) May 29, 2019
In a series of tweets the next day, the organization responded letting North Face and their advertising manager Leo Burnett know that their intrepid business maneuver was actually just taking advantage of peoples trust, along with the hard work the hundreds of thousands of people that volunteer to maintain Wikipedia.
When companies like The North Face take advantage of the trust you have in Wikipedia just to sell you clothes, you should be angry. Their actions have gone directly against the spirit, purpose, and policies of Wikipedia to provide neutral, fact-based knowledge to the world.
Volunteers then quickly removed all of the swapped photos or edited out the companys logo.
Numerous commenters have since expressed their outrage, many promising to boycott the store in the future.
northface: we defaced a non-profit educational website because we didn't like the fact that our advertisements don't show up first in a google search
literally everyone else: ????
— YY_moo (@5Weet_7riP) May 29, 2019
The North Face also earned a new edition to its own Wikipedia page over the incident.
After the public outcry, the brand did respond to Wikipedias tweet with an apology, and a promise to do better. Not everyone was convinced, however, with most saying an apology wasnt quite enough.