The North Face apologizes for swapping Wikipedia photos with its own promotional images

The brand ended its "Top of Images" campaign after reprimand from the Wikimedia Foundation.
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The North Face’s latest marketing stunt isn’t about elevating women or getting more people outside. And no, it’s not about public lands either. The highly-regarded global brand earlier this week bragged that it had found a loophole to crawl to the top of Google’s search results for free.

A two-minute video opens with the question, “How can a brand be the first on google without paying anything for it?” It goes on to explain how The North Face “did what no one has done before” and swapped photos of famous destinations with images of athletes wearing the brand to promote its own products.

But now, the brand has apologized for manipulating the system. The North Face told SNEWS that the global team had not approved the “Top of Images” project, which was apparently created by an independent distributor in Brazil along with ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made.

Within the Americas, The North Face has a distributor network for the Central and South American countries. A distributor for each country has the exclusive rights to sell and market The North Face products within their agreed upon geographies.

The agency's Brazilian subsidiary told SNEWS in an email that they "found a unique way to contribute photography of adventure destinations to their respective Wikipedia articles while achieving the goal of elevating those images in search rankings." But they've since learned the effort "worked counter to Wikipedia's guidelines."

The North Face also expressed remorse. "We believe deeply in Wikipedia’s mission and integrity–and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principles," The North Face told SNEWS in a statement. "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."

The North Face in the video also claimed it collaborated with Wikipedia on the project, which was not true. The nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation, wrote in a blog post: "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."

Volunteers removed The North Face's images from at least 15 articles, including ones for Guarita State Park in Brazil, Peninsula do Cabo in Mexico, and The Storr in Scotland.