In case you missed it, last week Digiday exposed a horrific scandal within the ad industry: agencies editing their own Wikipedia pages to make them read more like, well, ads. This went well beyond correcting inaccuracies and the sort of monthly upkeep that’s become standard operating procedure for businesses big enough to warrant such entries.
While none of the implicated parties confessed, it certainly looked like some internal changes had come from Wikipedia editors who just happened to work for JWT, AKQA, BBH, Big Spaceship, Cossette and more.
This is normally an issue one might associate with PR firms. In fact, reps from several of the world’s biggest firms–one of which might represent your agency–arranged an informal agreement with the Wikipedia editorial community last month: they promised not to pay or hire editors with clearance who would then work to spruce up their clients’ pages (or their own).
Since we are independently fascinated by this phenomenon, we reached out to several of our agency contacts to get their takes on the story.
We were surprised by how few volunteered, but we do have a couple of good quotes on the topic after the jump…
“It’s important to remember that Wikipedia isn’t just a public database or utility, it’s also a community. A rigorously devoted and idiosyncratic community, sure, but it’s important to respect their norms and conventions when you’re playing in that domain.
Wikipedia’s community doesn’t appreciate brands, agencies included, using their pages like an extended version of their ‘about us’ section. A Wikipedia page is still a stamp of relevance in the digital space, but if the contents of an agency’s page are steeped in self-servicing jargon, it negates its reason to exist. Even if an agency doesn’t ‘get caught’ sprucing up their page, Wikipedia isn’t and never has been a good context for a hard sell.”
“This practice of editing your Wikipedia page makes a lot of sense to me. How else will potential clients know that your shop is a ‘hot’ ‘Innovations company’ with ‘many accolades’ embodying that ‘spirit of innovation and bravery’ if you don’t tell them on your Wikipedia page? Given how much the public trusts advertising agencies, this should only bolster such a firm’s credibility.”
While we don’t think most of the general public was quite as fascinated by this Digiday story as we were, we have to agree with these two: the very act of breaking the admittedly arbitrary rules of the Wikipedia community to make oneself look better serves to confirm a few stereotypes that we’d rather not perpetuate.