In practice, the campaign was simple: take pictures of people using the North Face equipment in iconic vacation locations and then upload those images to the Wikipedia pages of destinations. After all, anyone can edit in Wikipedia, that's the seal of the site. And since Wikipedia entries often appear at the top of Google's results, every time someone searches, for example, the Guarita State Park in Brazil, the first image that appears is that of a person wearing a TNF jacket or backpack. It was one of the best and cheapest advertising in the world.
On Tuesday, AdAge published a story detailing the marketing campaign, a collaboration between the advertising agency Leo Burnett and North Face Brazil. Essentially, the brand had ordered pictures of models with their team in a handful of highly sought after vacation destinations, such as the aforementioned Guarita State Park, and then uploaded those photos to Wikipedia, replacing the user's unmarked photos.
A marketing video of the brand TNF, produced by an arm of Leo Burnett, boasted: "We hacked the results to reach one of the most difficult places: the top of the largest search engine in the world, without paying anything, only collaborating with Wikipedia. "
A spokesperson for TNF explained to Outside that TNF Brasil is an "independent distributor", which means that the company is not part of VF, the parent company of North Face, but simply has a license to market and sell TNF equipment in Brazil. She said that Leo Burnett arrived at TNF Brazil for the first time in November, but does not know exactly how long the team was actively replacing the Wikipedia images. As TNF Brazil is not under the corporate umbrella of VF, it did not need to obtain approval from TNF headquarters before continuing with the campaign.
On Wednesday, the TNF headquarters issued a formal apology. "We deeply believe in the mission and integrity of Wikipedia, and we apologize for participating in activities inconsistent with those principles," the statement reads. "With immediate effect, we have finished the campaign and we are moving forward, we will strive to do better and we are committed to ensuring that our teams and providers are better trained in the policies of Wikipedia sites."