In The North Face latest video campaign, they proudly announced reaching number 1 in Google’s search results by paying nothing; an impossible feat in the search engine giant’s platform.
“We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top of the world’s largest search engine, paying absolutely nothing, just by collaborating with Wikipedia,” says in their video.
The campaign achieved its goal: they were number 1 on Google’s Top Photos. However, the popular American outdoor lifestyle brand found itself in controversy — as Wikipedia and public outcry denounced the campaign.
A Brazilian subsidiary of ad agency Leo Burnett created the video and was behind the effort in April to insert the images on Wikipedia pages.
In the video material shared by AdAge, The North Face explained how they were able to “hack” Google.
The North Face capitalized on the idea that often times, before going on a trip, people turned to Google to make a basic search. Furthermore, those search results often had Wikipedia at the top of the list of search results. In relation, the images attached to these Wikipedia pages are also the top photo results in Google Images.
To exploit this, they hired Leo Burnett’s Brazil team to take photos of models in popularly searched travel locations wearing The North Face jackets, clothes, and equipment — which they eventually used to replace the photos on Wikipedia pages.
At the end of the campaign, there was North Face gear in more than 15 locations including Brazil’s Guarita State Park and the Mampituba lighthouse, as well as, California’s Cabo peninsula, Peru’s Huayna Picchu, and Scotland’s Cuillin mountains.
The result was that The North Face photos that were replaced in Wikipedia ended up to be the top photo results every time someone searched for the popular destinations. Hence, massive publicity boosts and free advertising costs.
Initially, The North Face and Burnett’s team appeared to be clueless about the possible backlash from an ethical standpoint; considering the lines that were said in the video seems to be an accomplishment for the team. The video, shown above, starts with the line, “How can a brand be the first on Google without paying anything for it?” and brags that they “did what no one has done before…we switched the Wikipedia photos for ours” and that they “[paid] absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.”
“Adding content that is solely intended to promote a company or its products goes against the spirit, purpose, and policies of Wikipedia to provide neutral, fact-based knowledge to the world,” the Wikimedia Foundation wrote in response. “It exploits a free public learning platform for corporate gain.”
Moreover, Wikipedia said in a tweet, “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.”
The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit behind Wikipedia, has since refuted that there was no collaboration of any sort, saying in a blog that “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,” it added.
The North Face has since then apologized on Twitter and said that it has ended the promotion. In an interview with The New York Times, the company pinned the blame on a lack of communication between the company and the local distributor in Brazil — which had approved the campaign.
The North Face said in response to Wikipedia‘s Tweet shown above says, “We believe deeply in @Wikipedia’s mission and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those 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.”