The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts Wikipedia, said Wednesday that The North Face and ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made "unethically manipulated" Wikipedia after removing photos on the platform and replacing them with ones featuring The North Face's products.
In an ad campaign video boasting about the strategy, the companies said they "hacked the results" so that The North Face appears at the top of Google whenever someone searches for an adventure. They said they paid "absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia." The Wikimedia Foundation denied involvement in the campaign.
"What they did was akin to defacing public property," the Wikimedia Foundation said in a post. "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."
Volunteers with the Wikimedia Foundation took down The North Face's images or cropped out the logos and are ensuring the affected articles "meet Wikipedia's standards of neutrality and reliable sourcing," the nonprofit said.
Wikipedia tweeted about the incident, saying: "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."
In a statement, The North Face said: "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."