The North Face called out over “unethical” product photo placement on Wikipedia
Brands want to be seen by as many people as possible. They’re businesses. They need to make money. It’s their only reason for existing. But there are right ways to get your products out there and there are definitely wrong ways.
Outdoor clothing company, The North Face recently hired ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made for a campaign which manipulated Wikipedia content to put The North Face products in photos that illustrate the content on the site. They even showed off how and why they did it in a video.
The video begins by asking…
How can a brand be the first on Google without paying anything for it?
Apparently, the answer is to deface Wikipedia content and replace all of the photos that genuine Wikipedia users have contributed with photos of your own. Photos that prominently feature your brand’s products. Seems obvious, right?
So, that’s exactly what The North Face did. They systematically went through Wikipedia looking for pages that their potential customers would be searching for so that when people visited, The North Face products would be shoved in their faces. The video goes on to say…
Ever noticed that before going on a trip, everyone does a Google search?
And most of the time, the first image is from Wikipedia?
Well, we have.
And we did what no one has done before.
No, people have tried it before, although usually not such huge brands. It’s spotted quickly, the get content scrubbed, and their accounts banned. The reason you haven’t heard of specific individuals that it’s happened to is that they’re nobodies, and they don’t brag about it in a fu**ing video! The reason you don’t hear of big brands doing it, The North Face, is because smart people know it’s not a good idea. Only a complete moron could think that this would help to promote their brand and paint them in a positive light.
The Drum reports that The North Face claim their “biggest obstacle” was how to pull off such a massive manipulation “without attracting the attention of the Wikipedia moderators”. In other words, they knew exactly what they were doing was wrong. Yet, they did it anyway. And even made the above film bragging about it.
The North Face claims they were “collaborating” with Wikipedia, but Wikipedia flat out denies that there was any sort of collaboration at all and that they knew nothing about this ridiculous stunt.
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
Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world, boasting 48 million articles in 300 languages. Only 1,200 unpaid volunteers monitor the integrity of the English-language pages. Naturally, Wikipedia weren’t too happy about the stunt, issuing a statement saying that “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”
The North Face issued something of an apology to Wikipedia via Twitter.
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.
— The North Face (@thenorthface) May 30, 2019
If The North Face really wants to apologise to Wikimedia properly for the free advertising they’ve received, they should visit here. They say that their campaign has ended – meaning they got caught and they know they’re being watched now, so couldn’t do it anymore even if they wanted to. Needless to say, the backlash on social media has been pretty severe, as you can see in the responses here.
Like I said, there right ways to promote your brand and there are definitely wrong ways. This way likely just lost The North Face quite a few customers.
[via The Drum]
John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.