The campaign led Wikipedia to accuse The North Face of 'defacing public property'

The campaign led Wikipedia to accuse The North Face of 'defacing public property'

The organisation behind free online encyclopaedia Wikipedia has criticised outdoors and fashion brand The North Face for using its pages to boost its publicity.

The Wikimedia Foundation said the brand had unethically manipulated Wikipedia for a marketing stunt.

It accused the brand, which is owned by US-based VF Corporation, of replacing scenic images on the online encyclopaedia with ones containing its branded clothing. Because Wikipedia pages score highly on Google searches, this boosted the brand’s visibility.

The campaign by the brand’s agency Leo Burnett Tailer Made, was detailed in a film that boasted: “How can a brand be first on Google without paying anything for it?”

It said it photographed its brand in several adventurous places and then replaced existing Wikipedia pictures with them, adding it paid absolutely nothing by ‘collaborating with Wikipedia’.

But the Wikimedia Foundation said: “Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation did not collaborate on this stunt, as The North Face falsely claims.

“In fact, what they 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.

“As the non-profit that operates Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation’s vision is a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. We also work for the preservation of a public good.

“For more than 18 years, Wikipedia volunteers have been writing, perfecting, sourcing, and referencing more than 50 million articles that anyone can access for free on the internet. Every day they fight to protect what you read from bias and misinformation – that is how they have earned your trust.

“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.”

It said its volunteers have removed the images or cropped them so The North Face logo no longer appears, adding: “We invite companies to learn the established best practices of properly engaging on Wikipedia and support the public good.”

The North Face’s campaign appears to have backfired, with some customers saying on social media that they would stop buying the brand’s products.

The video appears on the Adage website.  Among UK locations said to have been involved are the Cuillin and Storr on the Isle of Skye.

The ‘stunt’ appeared to have backfired on social media.

A spokesperson for The North Face said: “We believe deeply in Wikipedia’s mission and integrity, and apologise for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles.

“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.”