Updated The North Face tried to sneakily replace images on Wikipedia pages with shots of models wearing the outdoor-clothing biz's clobber in an attempt to skyrocket to the top of Google Images.
It was part of an ad campaign that The North Face figured out with the Brazilian branch of international admen Leo Burnett Tailor Made. They had noticed that when people searched for top nature destinations, the first few images on Google were often taken from Wikipedia pages.
For example, if you look for El Capitan in Google Images, the first picture of the gigantic granite 3,000-foot cliff nestled in Yosemite National Park in California is taken from Wikipedia. The North Face decided to swap those images with ones taken from professional photoshoots that showed off their expensive get-ups and gear pictured in the same destination. Product placement, eh?
The clothing giant even bragged about it. “How can a brand be the first on Google without paying anything for it?” it asked in a promotional video, since removed from YouTube. “We photographed our brand in several adventurous places. Then we switched the Wikipedia photos for ours. Simple as that.” Hell, it even added: “We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: The top of the world’s largest search engine.”
“Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims,” Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit based in San Francisco that hosts Wikipedia, said Wednesday.
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“In fact, what they did was akin to defacing public property, which is a surprising direction from The North Face. 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.”
Wikipedia is getting its own back, however. Liam Wyatt, the coordinator for the GLAM–Wiki initiative, a project that helps galleries, libraries, archives and museums share resources with Wikipedia editors, said some of the pictures are “lovely” and are going to stay up on the site after having any logos cropped out.
Though it's @LeoBurnett who are responsible...— Liam Wyatt (@Wittylama) May 28, 2019
Rule of thumb: if you have to explain yourself by saying you "hacked" a free, volunteer run project, you're the baddie.
The pics are lovely though. We're working on salvaging some by cropping the logos before returning to articles.
El Reg has asked The North Face and Leo Burnett Tailor Made for comment. ®
Updated to add
"We believe deeply in Wikipedia’s mission and integrity – and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles," a North Face spokesperson told The Register.
"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."