The North Face called out over “unethical” product photo placement on Wikipedia

May 31, 2019

John Aldred

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.

The North Face called out over “unethical” product photo placement on Wikipedia

May 31, 2019

John Aldred

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.

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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?

Ever noticed?

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 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.

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]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

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.

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13 responses to “The North Face called out over “unethical” product photo placement on Wikipedia”

  1. olivier borgognon Avatar
    olivier borgognon

    I much doubt that TNF has lost customers (on the long run) but gained so many more from the attention and posts going viral about them.

    As Dali would say, good or bad advertising is advertising. They are working on the very fine line for sure, it’s the pull-out technique, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Is this not what all business marketing is about ?

    We are driven in movies by product placement without seeing it, walk around cities as brand ambassadors (who complains about wearing a brand on them ? it’s identification, and social culture), but we make a big thing of them going on a platform to promote their brand ?

    As a business, it’s brilliant, and the video about it is even more, a bit like Gilette a few months back, they managed to place a few images, get them off, and get blogs, twittersphere, wikipedia, and the whole web to talk about the brand. In a few days or weeks, people will have forgotten the Stunt, and get back to normal lives, buying The North Face products because they find them cool or have discovered them through this stunt (bringing it to their primary cortex attention).

    They are basically using guerrilla marketing techniques at the highest level, should we look deeply into it.

    1. Christopher Guillou Avatar
      Christopher Guillou

      Not so sure, in this day and age ethics and brand personality go a long way and their stunt didn’t put theirs in a good light (pun intended ?)

      1. Marko Avatar
        Marko

        You have a point.

      2. olivier borgognon Avatar
        olivier borgognon

        i see your point, and in a sense you are right, but does wanting to get something for free and talking about it really qualify as unethical ?

        Had it been on some seriously unethical or illegal point, they would go down in flames, but pulling out a stunt on trying to get free marketing from top google PR site is loosing a game in a championship by trying to set new rules.

        1. Christopher Guillou Avatar
          Christopher Guillou

          Of course they were testing what they could get away with, that’s the whole problem with most of the borderline unethical practices they’re not illegal per se but the objectives and means are still shitty…
          I guess the question should be : if you want to play the system is it for global progress (including your own) or is it exclusively for your own financial advantage ?
          Well I know for a fact I won’t be considering nor recommending a North Face product soon :-)

  2. Christopher Guillou Avatar
    Christopher Guillou

    Well that was pretty stupid.
    But not surprised coming from a MegaAgency such as Leo Burnett…

  3. Dunja Djudjic Avatar
    Dunja Djudjic

    I fought the law and law won :D

  4. Christian Lynge Avatar
    Christian Lynge

    Boycut them

  5. Shachar Weis Avatar
    Shachar Weis

    Well, you guys wrote a whole article about it. With their brand and pictures and everything. Pretty sure they consider that a huge success.

    1. Fernando Adrian Avatar
      Fernando Adrian

      it was a dirty move, but a successfull one

  6. Tom Dahm Avatar
    Tom Dahm

    Nah. The platform is open and this is what happens.

    Genius move.

  7. Jeffrey Friedl Avatar
    Jeffrey Friedl

    I believe that one must discard copyright when uploading a photo for Wikipedia, casting the image into the public domain. That means that all those The North Face photos are in the public domain, and be used by anyone for anything.

    Would be funny if other brands took them, manipulated them for their own purposes, and used them in their own ads. :-D

  8. NotYourLawyer Avatar
    NotYourLawyer

    There is a difference between “wrong” and “against policy,” or even “bone-headed.” This was the latter 2, not the former. It’s not unethical, illegal, or dirty. It’s at most against the public-minded spirit of the Wikimedia Foundation and a TOS violation. This is what successful publicity stunts do – they upend a norm or violate a sensibility without verging into the immoral or illegal.