Outdoor sporting goods company The North Face found itself in a bit of hot water this week after an ad agency working on its behalf seeded a number of Wikipedia articles for popular tourist destinations with photos of models wearing the brand’s clothing.The rationale behind this stunt was to put The North Face clothing at the top of Google image results for various travel destinations (the news was first reported by AdAge). Wikipedia enjoys a very prominent position in the Google search results for basically every notable location on Earth, so the agency figured it was an easy way of getting some organic-looking product placement in front of a whole bunch of eyeballs for next to no money.
Unfortunately for The North Face and the ad agency Leo Burnett Taylor Made, editing Wikipedia without disclosing that you’re being paid to do so is explicitly against the site’s rules. The online encyclopedia’s volunteers, who work tirelessly to ensure the accuracy of information on the site, did not take kindly to the stunt.On Tuesday, tweets from Wikipedia editors started making the rounds, decrying the agency’s questionable actions. On Wednesday, the Wikimedia Foundation issued its own official statement on the matter that called the campaign “akin to defacing public property.” Images uploaded by the ad agency have been deleted.