The North Face and ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made deliberately replaced images on Wikipedia with its own branded photos to reach the top of Google search results.
“We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places,” claims a recent video created by Leo Burnett and presented by The North Face. “The top of the world’s largest search engine.”
The video (below) was part of a marketing stunt dubbed the “Top of Images” project. Through it, according to The North Face, the brand shot pictures of subjects wearing its gear in “several adventurous places.” It then swapped those branded photos into the Wikipedia pages for those destinations.
The result: The North Face’s images skyrocketed to the top of Google results when people searched those places. Shortly after the video launched, moderators with the Wikimedia Foundation condemned the move and immediately took some “hacked” photos down and cropped The North Face’s logo out of others.
‘For Shame @TheNorthFace’
“Yesterday, we were disappointed to learn that The North Face, an outdoor recreation product company, and Leo Burnett Tailor Made, an ad agency retained by The North Face, unethically manipulated Wikipedia. They have risked your trust in our mission for a short-lived marketing stunt,” Wikimedia said in a statement titled “Let’s talk about The North Face defacing Wikipedia.”
“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.”
GearJunkie spoke with a representative from The North Face. The rep said the brand’s Brazilian team led the Top of Image project and that its global team did not endorse it.
In a statement to AdAge, The North Face apologized and confirmed it discontinued the campaign:
“We believe deeply in Wikipedia’s mission and integrity — and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles. Effective immediately, we have ended the campaign and moving forward, we’ll strive to do better and commit to ensuring that our teams and vendors are better trained on Wikipedia’s site policies.”
— Liam Wyatt (@Wittylama) May 28, 2019
Leo Burnett Tailor Made, the ad agency responsible for the Top of Image project, also issued a statement, though stopped short of an apology:
“Leo Burnett Tailor Made found a unique way to contribute photography of adventure destinations to their respective Wikipedia articles while achieving the goal of elevating those images in search rankings … We’ve since learned that this effort worked counter to Wikipedia’s community guidelines. Understanding the issue, we ended the campaign.”