Last week The North Face was in the news after it was discovered that they had tried to game the system to get to the top of Google by replacing images of key travel destinations on Wikipedia with their own photos featuring their products. You can see their congratulatory video that they produced with their ad agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made, along with the subsequent apology here on the Ad Age site.
I can see how the idea might have come about, all businesses are obviously trying to get their products infront of as many potential consumers as possible. But the cynical way in which they approached this makes me feel like they have littered in places of beauty.
The old saying ‘No such thing as bad publicity’ does have an element of truth and they certainly secured more brand exposure last week, but I can’t help thinking that they could have done it in a much more positive way. The beauty of Wikipedia is that they could see who those top search performing photos that they replaced belonged to. Why didn’t they get in touch with those intrepid travellers and say how much they loved their photos, offering to kit them out for their next expedition? Yes, it might have been a slower process and yes they still may not have made it into the photos with the exact logo visibility as they were able to control themselves, but they would have still been associating their brand with the right sort of audience and would have made some people’s days in the process.
I may be too much of a purist, but in my opinion, as a marketer, you have to believe in your product. If you have truly created something that meets a customer need, then you have to release it into the world and let it do its thing. I feel the same way about marketers trying to game the system in social media – if you focus your content calendar on beating algorithms and not on sharing great stories and videos which your target audience will genuinely be interested in, then you have already lost! Working with influencers can be really great for your brand, provided that you send them the product/give them the service experience and just let them say whatever they want to about it. As soon as you start prescribing the way they should communicate, you don’t just lose the value of their already established style and engagement with their followers, you risk those terrible errors we have all seen where someone copies and pastes the whole post including the instructions from the Marketing Manager.
Back to Search, The North Face example is just one in a long line of brands who have found themselves in hot water after trying to game the Google algorithms. Google usually makes an example of a brand every few years – the last big one that I remember was Interflora who had been paying for inbound links sometimes on completely irrelevant sites – such as making the word Roses clickable on an allotment website with growing tips. Google crashed them out of the listings for their own brand name as well as flower search terms, just before Mothers’ Day which must have had a significant impact on their revenues.
I know there are conspiracy theories about the size of Google and its power, but I honestly believe that it will only maintain its position as the No.1 search engine if it provides the most relevant results to its users. That’s why it has such complicated algorithms to understand both the intent of the searcher and the subsequent experience they have when they click on a result. If you build your website from a point of view of your consumer you can’t go wrong. Make it make sense for a human, fill it with relevant content that helps your consumer and ties in with your offering and I guarantee that the bots will be able to find what they need to.
I love Marketing and all the different things that you can do strategically but we really don’t need to make this a manipulative and dark art. Believe in your product, serve your consumer and we can all get what we need. And if you don’t believe in your product or you aren’t serving your customer, change what you are doing in the company or move to a company where you can use your Marketing expertise for good.