Hi-Tech Scavenger Hunt Kicks Off 'Planet of the Apes'

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20th Century Fox has turned its online marketing efforts for the upcoming release of its movie "Planet of the Apes" into a hi-tech scavenger hunt by using the online/offline gaming craze called geocaching.


The 13-week-long worldwide promotion -- titled Project A.P.E., or Alternative Primate Evolution -- got under way May 25. The movie, a remake of the 1968 film, is scheduled for release July 27.


20th Century Fox sent more than 100,000 text e-mails to an inhouse list on May 29 to promote Project A.P.E. The e-mail provides background information on Project A.P.E. and geocaching. More than 9,000 additional e-mails were sent by www.geocaching.com, a site dedicated to the game and its community of players.


Studio executives would not disclose the campaign's cost.


Geocaching is a scavenger hunt-type game in which people hide a cache, or capsule, and then mark the coordinates with a global positioning system unit. They then go back to a Web site to describe the area in which they hid the cache and provide its coordinates. Using their GPS units, participants must find the cache, open it and enter their name in a logbook. They must take out one of the items in the capsule and replace it with something of their own.


A cache can be just a logbook, but it also can be a sealed plastic bucket with maps, books, software, hardware, CDs, videos, pictures, money, jewelry, tickets or whatever else players put in it. According to geocaching.com, the fun of the game is not so much knowing where caches are hidden, but getting to them. For example, they can be hidden on sides of cliffs or underwater, so only rock climbers or scuba divers can get to them.


"I believe the geocaching aspect is unique because it has not been used for a film before," said Jeffrey Godsick, executive vice president of publicity and promotions at 20th Century Fox. "It's capitalizing on the beginning of a new Internet phenomenon, and Internet audiences are hungry for what's new, original and exciting."


The studio also has created a story to coincide with the game. The story centers around a group of radical scientists known as Project A.P.E. The scientists find several items on an archaeological dig that do no not appear to be of human origin, and they are unable to tell whether the items are from the past or the future. They are told by the government to keep them secret. However, believing the world should know about their find, they have placed the items in locations around the world.


Twice a week, clues to where the items can be found are posted on www.projectape.com, and every Friday the coordinates are posted on www.geocaching.com. The first cache was found in five hours and contained a spoon used by one of the ape characters in the movie.


"This is the first global site we have created," Godsick said. "The site can be entered in nine languages."


Participants must have a GPS unit and must post a note on projectape.com once they have found the cache. One cache will be hidden each week. Eight will be placed in U.S. cities, and five will be hidden abroad.


Godsick said he does not consider the limited number of people with GPS units to be a hindrance to the promotion.


"The overall site is and will continue to be packed with elements from the film that will appeal to both fans and general moviegoers," he said. "So the fact that the amount of people who have GPS units is more limited does not affect overall access to the film on the Internet. The type of audience that has jumped into geocaching is the same type of early-adopter trendsetter that we want talking about the film."


The caches will contain props from the movie. The studio will leave the caches out for the duration of the promotion so people joining later can start from the beginning. It will refill the caches with shirts and other collectibles.


Those wishing to take part in Project A.P.E. do not have to register. Executives said that because of technical problems, they are currently unable to tell how many people are taking part in Project A.P.E., but they planned to begin tracking that number late last week.


Those who do not want to take part in the geocaching game can enter a weekly sweepstakes and win a Garmin eTrex GPS unit by registering at www.planetoftheapes.com.


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