North Face apologises over Wikipedia ‘hack’

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Models were snapped in remote locations and the images added to Wikipedia pages

Clothing firm North Face has apologised for manipulating Wikipedia to make images of its products more prominent in Google results.

Its ad agency put images of models wearing North Face gear on Wikipedia pages about remote locations.

In a video, the firm boasted that the stunt boosted its search engine ranking and cost “nothing”.

It issued the apology following criticism by the Wikimedia foundation and wider condemnation on social media.

Public property

A Brazilian subsidiary of ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made was behind the effort in April to insert the images on Wikipedia pages explaining the history and character of well-known and remote locations.

In a video explaining what it had done shared by Advertising Age, North Face said it had “hacked” the search rankings using Wikipedia pages.

It said it capitalised on the fact that many people search Google prior to embarking on a hiking trip or trek and the most popular images for the locations they seek are usually taken from Wikipedia pages.

To exploit this, models wearing or using North Face gear were snapped in more than 15 locations including Brazil’s Guarita State Park and the Mampituba lighthouse as well as California’s Cabo peninsula and Scotland’s Cuillin mountains.

Founded in the US, North Face started as retailer of specialist climbing gear before branching out into clothing.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which set up and oversees the online encyclopaedia, said the campaign had “unethically” manipulated Wikipedia.

“What they did was akin to defacing public property,” said the Foundation. “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 strong criticism led North Face to issue an apology.

“We believe deeply in Wikipedia’s mission and apologise for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles,” it said via Twitter.

“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.”





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