Marketing

North Face traded its integrity by ‘hacking’ Wikipedia. Was it worth it?

Michel Hogan /

North Face

Photos of people in North Face apparel posing in remote locations were uploaded to Wikipedia pages.

If you visited the Wikipedia page for Guarita State Park in South America a few weeks ago, you would have seen a lovely photo of the location featuring North Face clothing. No, Wikipedia didn’t sell out to commercial interests. Instead, a questionable North Face marketing campaign hacked the pages of wilderness locations uploading the product promotion photos.

You read that right. North Face, a so-called defender of the environment, decided: ‘Screw it, let’s deface a digital landscape in service to our sales targets. Aren’t we clever!’ It may as well have hung product banners on the cliff faces of Yosemite.

And the agency who executed the campaign thought it was so smart, it made a video boasting it had scaled one of the world’s hardest to reach places: the top of Google’s search rankings.

Once released into the wild, people including the Wikimedia Foundation saw it. Surprise, surprise, they weren’t amused, so let’s add a dash of stupid to the arrogant intent. The photos have since been removed, or products cropped out.

Once called out, North Face did the two-step, blame-shift non-apology.

Except, sorry, that doesn’t cut it. Because somewhere at North Face, someone signed off on this. Likely several someones. And forget Wikipedia’s mission for a minute. What about their own?

For the record, its website reads: “The North Face® fundamental mission remains unchanged since 1966: Provide the best gear for our athletes and the modern day explorer, support the preservation of the outdoors, and inspire a global movement of exploration.”

Perhaps they could try harder. Maybe find ways to ‘inspire exploration’ and sell their gear without taking advantage of a public utility in the process.

For your identity (or purpose and values) to mean something, they have to show up across what you do. All the time. Not just in convenient times. And yes, that includes dragging it to the table when you’re working with others. Like when your agency has a harebrained idea almost sure to get you noticed for the wrong things.

And for those who live by the ‘all publicity is good’ mantra, consider every time you trade the integrity of your identity for something worth less, you devalue your organisation in a fundamental way. Every time.

It would be easy to trot out multiple examples of the ways rival outdoor apparel company Patagonia thinks differently about their marketing. A quick poke around quickly illustrates how their mission shows up. I suspect hacking Wikipedia to drive product sales wouldn’t be considered, let alone put into action.

In our attention-porn economy, when everything is a promotional opportunity, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture in service to the objective. If some is good, more is better. Except when it isn’t.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

See you in two weeks.

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Michel Hogan

Michel is an independent brand counsel advising organisations on the risk to their purpose and values of making promises they can’t keep — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com or you can follow her on Twitter at @michelhogan.

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