The North Face Issues Apology After Wikipedia ‘Hacking’ Campaign Backfires

After openly bragging about gaming Wikipedia to boost its search engine ranking, The North Face today apologized for a marketing stunt that violated trust with consumers.

In a statement, the outdoor recreation company said it had ended a campaign involving the manipulation of Wikipedia pages to promote its own products for free.

“We believe deeply in Wikipedia’s mission and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles,” The North Face said. “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 Alameda, Calif.-based firm’s video ad — produced in partnership with São Paulo-based agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made and shared on marketing news outlet AdAge this week — showed footage of a climber reaching the top of a mountain along with its “Top of Images” campaign.

After shooting branded apparel and accessories modeled in popular travel destinations, the North Face uploaded those images to the Wikipedia pages of those locations. (Pages on the free website can be edited by volunteers around the world.)

“We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top of the world’s largest search engine,” the company said in the video. “We did what no one has done before,” adding that it had “[paid] absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.”

On Wednesday, Wikipedia host and nonprofit group Wikimedia Foundation denied the collaboration, describing The North Face’s campaign as “akin to defacing public property.”

“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,” the organization said.

Volunteers on Wikipedia subsequently took down the photographs from the articles in which they were added or cropped out The North Face logo.

It’s not the first time the clothing and outdoor equipment giant sparked controversy through its advertising efforts. In January, The North Face tweeted that it planned to build free public climbing walls in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver and Brooklyn, N.Y., “as places to unite us” — trolling President Donald Trump during the fourth week of a partial government shutdown over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (The message was part of a campaign it launched in 2017 called “Walls Are Meant for Climbing.”)

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