The North Face flooded Wikipedia with product images to manipulate Google ranking
Last week, The North Face and ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made published a video detailing the company's exploitation of Wikipedia as part of an ad campaign. The exploitation, according to the company's video, involved swapping Wikipedia images of various destinations with new images that prominently featured The North Face gear.
The oddly boastful video puts forth the following question: How can a brand be the first on Google without paying anything for it? The rest of the video details how The North Face pulled off its stunt, including sending photographers to capture original images of people using the company's gear in 'adventurous' locations.
The Wikipedia pages for these high-tourism destinations, the video notes, often appear at the top of the first Google search results page; the first images found on these pages are often at or near the top position on Google Image Search, as well.
As part of its manipulation, The North Face swapped the first images in these Wikipedia pages with its own original photos of the destinations -- ones that prominently featured apparel, backpacks, and other products.
In pulling this stunt, the video brags that The North Face was able to manipulate Google Image Search into ranking its promotional content near the top of its results for these destinations.
|A screenshot of the Guarita State Park Wikipedia page before North Face added its own photos.|
The companies seemingly acknowledged the unacceptable nature of the activity to AdAge, reportedly stating the 'biggest obstacle' for the ad campaign was replacing the images 'without attracting the attention of Wikipedia moderators.' As well, the video at one point states that The North Face was 'collaborating' with Wikipedia in this effort, something Wikimedia Foundation addressed in a blog post.
|A screenshot of the Guarita State Park Wikipedia page after North Face added its own photos.|
The non-profit organization called the ad campaign an unethical manipulation of Wikipedia, saying, 'They have risked your [the public's] trust in our mission for a short-lived marketing stunt.'
'Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims,' the non-profit states in its blog, comparing the ad campaign's image manipulation to 'defacing public property.' As expected, Wikipedia proceeded to remove some of The North Face's images from articles and to crop its logo out of other images.
Wikimedia Foundation said:
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.
For its part, The North Face published a lackluster apology on Twitter, 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.— The North Face (@thenorthface) May 30, 2019
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