Apparel giant The North Face has found itself in hot water recently after it resorted to some less-than-scrupulous tactics to ensure its gear stood out in search results. The clever marketing stunt, however, continues to deliver.
According to reports, the Wikimedia Foundation reported that The North Face and its ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made admitted to having “unethically manipulated” Wikipedia for a campaign. The move was so slick that no one would have noticed if it wasn’t for a promotional video run by Ad Age explaining the scheme.
Apparently, North Face did photo shoots of its gear and clothing at various renowned adventure destinations – like Guarita State Park, Península do Cabo, Cuillin Hills and Serra Fina – and then placed those photos on Wikipedia pages. This allowed the company to score top spots on Google image searches.
The text in the video boasted, “We did what no one has done before. We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top the world’s largest search engine.” The promo went on to state that the company paid “absolutely nothing.” It simply got prominent placement “by collaborating with Wikipedia.”
The images have since been removed or North Face logos cropped from the photos. The company itself has issued an apology, acknowledging that its behavior was “inconsistent” with Wikipedia’s goals.
The Wikimedia Foundation released a statement saying that North Face and the ad agency had “unethically manipulated Wikipedia” and “risked your 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 statement read. “When The North Face exploits the trust you have in Wikipedia to sell you more clothes, you should be angry.”
Shortly after the outrage, The North Face also issued an apology, but did not answer any questions. The industry is left wondering if the incident will be considered a thoughtless decision or a marketing victory. Only time will tell.
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Author Bio: Electronic payments expert Blair Thomas is the co-founder of high risk payment processing company eMerchantBroker. He’s just as passionate about his business as he is with traveling and spending time with his dog Cooper.