The North Face criticised by Wikipedia for "defacing public property"

Charlie Spargo's picture

By replacing Wikipedia photos with branded shots, The North Face has come under fire for gaming the system in order to bolster its search results.

The California-based clothing company was criticised only after it had proudly revealed the success of its campaign, done in association with Leo Burnett Tailor Made. The brand produced professional photos of athletes and actors wearing North Face gear at global landmarks including Brazil’s Guarita State Park and Farol do Mampimptuba, Scotland's Cuillin, and Peru’s Huayna Picchu.

It then replaced featured photos on Wikipedia with these, pushing their own branded photos up the Google search results.

Once the results had been reported by AdAge, Wikipedia's volunteer community editors were swift to remove the photos, or - in line with Wikipedia's terms of service - cropping them to remove the branding, leaving high-quality images that don't advertise The North Face anywhere.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, said: “What [The North Face] did was akin to defacing public property, which is a surprising direction from The North Face. Their stated mission, ‘unchanged since 1966’, is to ‘support the preservation of the outdoors’ - a public good held in trust for all of us.

“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.”

Backlash

Later, The North Face issued a Twitter apology, saying: "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."

Angry volunteer editors on the online encylopedia then took to The North Face's page to update it with a new 'Controversies' section. “In May 2019, The North Face's advertising agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made used Wikipedia to try to promote their products in Google search results as part of an advertisement campaign. Their actions violated Wikipedia's term of use on undisclosed paid editing.”