Lessons Learned from The North Face Wikipedia Backlash

Published on 10th July 2019

Image of hand holding phone with wikipedia page on screen.

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It’s every communications professional’s worst fear: Their innovative, well-planned marketing campaign takes a wrong turn and quickly snowballs into a PR disaster.

The North Face was the latest brand to see a campaign backfire. The brand partnered with the agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made to promote their outdoor clothing and equipment company using Wikipedia in their brand advertising strategy.

To do this, they replaced Wikipedia images in articles about well-known hiking destinations like Scotland’s Cuillin and Peru’s Huayna Piccu with images featuring their products. The campaign was designed to boost the performance of branded photos from The North Face in Google Images.

Wikipedia editors and the Wikimedia Foundation (WMK) came out strongly against this strategy and the brand’s attempt to “game” Google search results using the site. The brand apologized only after Wikipedia’s executive director asked for a public apology.

In their recent blog post, Beutler Ink breaks down the fiasco and explores whether it is ever appropriate for brands to engage with Wikipedia. Their take: Absolutely.

Best Practices for Brands to Effectively Engage with Wikipedia

The key to success here is understanding the distinction between engaging with Wikipedia versus manipulating the site and its community. The site and its editors have drawn a clear line for companies: The site is not to be used for promotion or anonymous editing.

The North Face crossed this line on both counts.

There were several ways the company could have pursued this campaign within Wikipedia’s guidelines. First, they simply could have disclosed their identity as required by Wikipedia’s Terms of Use. Second, they could have offered their images as an addition to Wikipedia’s existing imagery rather than replacing them altogether. Finally, they should have left the final decision on the imagery to Wikipedia’s editors.

Beutler Ink sums it up with these four best practices for engaging with Wikipedia:

  1. Reach out to the community to correct any inaccuracies
  2. Share up-to-date information
  3. Provide sourcing and resources
  4. Offer materials to build up Wikipedia as a great source of information

To get the full take, read Beutler Ink’s blog on What Brands Can Learn from The North Face Wikipedia Backlash. You can also download their eBook: Wikipedia and the Communications Pro.

Or, you can read more Brand Insights from Worldcom Communications Partners.


Beutler Ink is the industry leader in Wikipedia strategy. The digital agency works with global brands like Google, Verizon, Uber, Amazon and more to help them share stories with their online audiences through stunning visuals and clear, concise copywriting. Beutler Ink provides services for information design, database and field research, effective storytelling and data analysis.

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