The North Face-plant: Turns out hacking Wikipedia isn’t good native advertising

The North Face hacked Wikipedia in a marketing stunt and the world didn’t appreciate it.

May 31, 2019

Earlier this week, The North Face got burned for replacing Wikipedia images from Scotland to Brazil with North Face-branded photos.

It was a shocking flub from a company normally known for corporate responsibility — but it also shows ads have gotten so “native” that advertisers themselves don’t know what’s branded and what’s not.

Collaboration or vandalism?

The North Face and ad partner Leo Burnett proudly announced the campaign in a video called “Top of Images.” 

“We did what no one has done before,” the promo video claimed. “We hacked the results to reach … the top of the world’s largest search engine — paying absolutely nothing just by collaborating with Wikipedia.”

But no one had actually consulted Wikipedia — which quickly responded by saying, “What they did was akin to defacing public property.”

In the age of the influencer, everything is an ad

The North Face, Leo Burnett, and Ad Age — which originally labeled the campaign an “editor’s pick” — were so hungry for novel native advertising that none recognized the entire premise was a flagrant violation of Wikipedia’s common-sense branding policies.

Influencer marketing has blurred the boundaries between branded and organic content — and opportunistic advertisers want a piece of the pie.

But there’s hope yet: Members of Wiki’s volunteer community smelled the branded bullsh*t and edited out the North Face logos almost immediately. 

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