There’s always been a lot of posturing and hyperbole in marketing. That’s to be excepted. But what is not expected, and certainly not cool – is outright lying.  

So why did the clothing company The North Face think that replacing Wikipedia images of famous places with new images that included its products was a good idea?! Wait, what? 

NEWS 

The North Face axes ‘unethical’ Wikipedia product placement campaign by Leo Burnett 

“The brand wanted to gain greater exposure on Google Image Search by hacking the encyclopedia (before admins could ban the accounts responsible and replace the images).” 

(Yeah. For real, they did just that). 

The idea of the scheme, er, stunt was that by replacing the images on Wikipedia, people who searched Google for trip planning information would see them at the top of search results, as Wikipedia images often do, thereby bolstering their brand image. 1 Or so they thought.  

And here’s the kicker: The North Face claimed it paid nothing for the “collaboration” with Wikipedia. The first half of that claim (that it was free) may be been true. As for the second half… 

Gee, what could go wrong? Well, “wrong” is how it went:  

To the surprise of no one (expect somehow The North Face) Wikipedia quickly figured out what had been done and released a statement: 

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.”2 

It also said: “What they did was akin to defacing public property,” and added, “When The North Face exploits the trust you have in Wikipedia to sell you more clothes, you should be angry”. 

Never seen a nicer way to slam a company, and rightfully so. 

On that same day, social media users did what they do best – they shared – and Wikipedia fans demanded that The North Face make a donation to the nonprofit as penance as well as issue an apology for their lapse in judgment.  

That night, The North Face made their apology via Twitter: ““We believe deeply in @Wikipedia’s mission and apologize for engaging in activity inconsistent with those principlesEffective 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.”3 

But did they donate to Wikipedia?  Are they really sorry? 

I don’t think I need to explain further why The North Face’s stunt was so OBVIOUSLY wrong, but I do think this is a great time for a reminder of why PR exists – it’s all about building trust, maintaining that trust, and creating excellent reputation. 

That’s the whole shebang, people. 

One more time for those of you in the back of the room: It’s about the TRUUUUUST you build from third-party credibility you’ve earned! 

It makes no difference how many people see your company logo or your products if your intended audience doesn’t believe in you. Pulling even one dishonest marketing stunt can quickly destroy all the goodwill you worked so hard to build through your PR efforts. 

For the antithesis of a PR stunt – a real win if you ask me – read #PRWIN OR PRFAIL: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Jeff Goldblum?, and you tell me. 

 

A big part of our Anti-PR method is to utilize publicity to build up stable relationships between you and your target audiences. 

Of course, building those relationships takes a lot of work and time – the public is very savvy and can smell dishonesty a mile away. Combined with a marketing strategy that’s on the straight and narrow, Anti-PR will overcome any emotional barriers and have your target audience coming to you. 

Let’s talk about building – and keeping – that all important trust. | 888-919-4034 

 

Sources: 

  1. Mervosh, Sarah, “North Face Edited Wikipedia’s Photos. Wikipedia Wasn’t Happy.”, NYTimes.com, nytimes.com/2019/05/30/business/north-face-wikipedia-leo-burnett.html, May 30, 2019
  2. 2.Aten, Jason, “The North Face Just Did The 1 Thing No Marketer Should Ever Do”, Inc.com,com/jason-aten/the-north-face-just-did-1-thing-no-marketer-should-ever-do.html, May 30, 2019 
  3. 3.Brown, Jennings, “North Face Apologizes for Showing Us the Future of Marketing”, Gizmodo.com,com/north-face-apologizes-for-showing-us-the-future-of-mark-1835134494, May 30, 2019