What just happened? Because of the relative ease with which entries can be edited, not everyone trusts Wikipedia. Recently, The North Face and its advertising agency proved how the site can be altered to the benefit of others.
According to the Wikimedia Foundation - the non-profit that hosts Wikipedia - both the apparel company and its ad agency, Leo Burnett Tailor Made, confessed to having "unethically manipulated" Wikipedia.
The brand agency took photos of athletes in famous locations around the world, including Brazil's Guarita State Park and the Mampituba lighthouse, wearing North Face’s products. It then updated the Wikipedia entries for these locations with the photographs, meaning that when someone searched for any of these places on Google, usually as research before visiting, the top results would show people wearing North Face gear.
Adage published a video about the campaign, in which both companies boasted that they “hacked the results” and paid “absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia” – a claim the Wikimedia Foundation denies. The pair go on to say that the “biggest obstacle” was in manipulating the site “without attracting attention [from] Wikipedia moderators.”
The Foundation said: "What they did was 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."
Yesterday, we were disappointed to learn that @thenorthface and @LeoBurnett unethically manipulated Wikipedia. They have risked your trust in our mission for a short-lived consumer stunt. 1/ https://t.co/aIl5XEkS3z— Wikipedia (@Wikipedia) May 29, 2019
Volunteers have now removed the images or cropped out the North Face logos. The company has apologized for “engaging in activity inconsistent” with Wikipedia’s mission and principles. "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," it tweeted.
Advertising agencies aren’t renowned for their scrupulous behavior, but this was shady even by their standards. To then boast about it in a video makes it all the worse.