WWTT? The North Face Fails With Wikipedia Stunt

A marketing stunt either pans out and seems like some kind of clever guerilla marketing tactic (for example, the Palessi store or Deadpool being in everything last year ahead of Deadpool 2), or it falls flat, illustrating how poorly a marketer understands good taste, or, well … marketing. And now this week, we can add outdoor retailer The North Face to that list of failed marketing stunts.

According to an article on Wikimedia, as well as the Twitter thread that was shared, the outdoor brand The North Face acted as if it had collaborated with Wikipedia (it had not) and replaced images on a variety of Wikipedia pages with those from The North Face … bragging in a video published by Ad Age that the brand had ““did what no one has done before … we switched the Wikipedia photos for ours” and “[paid] absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.”

So, the retailer and its agency lied about a collaboration AND went against the site’s terms of service.

In its “Top of Images” campaign, The North Face aimed to have its images at the top of Google search results pages … and since usually the first images on these pages are from Wikipedia, the retailer decided to photograph its brand in specific locations, and then swap out the original photos on Wikipedia for those with The North Face products and/or branding.

First off, this is shady. Secondly, to produce a video that BRAGS about how slick you were, and then put it out in the world (again, check out that Ad Age link above) … just how dumb did they think Wikipedia and its editor are?

Doing the thing that is against the site’s terms of service and then actively talking about the challenge of getting away with it is not “collaborating.” And it’s certainly not good marketing, or even a clever marketing stunt. The video on Ad Age also states that The North Face “hacked” the results to reach the top of Google … which leads me to believe that The North Face and their agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made don’t know what “hacking” means, and also, again, contradict their own statement about “collaborating” with Wikipedia.

This is sloppy, and feels like a brand trying too hard to attempt guerilla marketing and falling horribly flat. This campaign did nothing but make the retailer look foolish, make the agency look even worse, and earn the ire of Wikipedia and its editors.

The retailer apologized, but honestly, how hard would it have been to think this through and realize it was a bad idea for a marketing stunt? In the tweet above, The North Face states, ” … we have ended the campaign and moving forward, we’ll commit to ensuring that our teams and vendors are better trained on site policies.”

Hey The North Face … not saying that Wikipedia would stoop so low, but you might want to keep an eye on your own Wikipedia page. And have a long chat with your agency.

Marketers, what do you think? Drop me a comment below!

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