Posted by: geonarcissa | July 16, 2009

Thumbs down to soliciting and advertising with geocaches.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short blog entry in response to a news article about a commercial geocaching venture in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.

“Shuswap Geo Quest” has gotten local business to donate swag  to be placed in new geocaches around the Shuswap area. Clearly, the businesses making these donations are motivated by the prospect of attracting geocachers to their businesses – it’s low-cost advertising.

This venture’s motives are clear. According to the coordinator, they “want to stimulate the economy, bring more tourists and encourage more spending.” I wish I could say that I’m surprised that Groundspeak is allowing this to go on – from my point of view, it’s a pretty blatent violation of the geocaching guidelines. Sadly, I’ve seen other commercial ventures take advantage of geocachers in a similar fashion while the reviewers turned a blind eye. It’s very discouraging to see things like”Ontario GPS Treasure Hunt” and “Shuswap Geo Quest” getting away with this when local caching organizations get raked over the coals for having sponsors cover the costs of geocaching events and CITOs.

I certainly understand that small towns like Salmon Arm, with economies that rely on tourism, are being hit hard by the recession and are eager to do whatever they can to attract visitors, but I am getting pretty tired of these charlatans trying to turn geocaches into free billboards.

If I was living in Salmon Arm, I’d be tempted to rush out for the FTF on all these caches just so I could remove all traces of advertising from them (replacing it with appropriate geocaching swag, of course).

Bonus lol – the people behind this scam keep saying their goal is to get people to live healthier lifestyles away from the television, yet they’re filling geocaches with advertising and vouchers for free junk food. I think Yoni over at Weighty Matters would get a kick out of that. I’ll have to send him an email tomorrow.



  1. If it actual swag and not just advertisements I think it would be okay… but i’m sure they are abusing it… probably loading caches with their crap! I hate religious stuff though!

    maybe they should just do a travel bug if they want to get the word out – and make it have a goal of visiting area caches as much as possible lol

  2. From what I hear they’re putting in vouchers for things like free coffee and stuff like that. It’s not swag, really, it’s just small incentives to get people into these businesses to buy more stuff. If a cacher gets a voucher for a free ice cream cone or coffee at a particular place, they’ll be more likely to go to that place for lunch.

    Sponsors and advertising have crept into geocaching in all kinds of ways. Some of it is at the Groundspeak level (Jeep tbs, Wherigo caches) and some of it is at local/regional level with event sponsors and that kind of thing. I just went to my first Mega event in June, and there were several corporate sponsors. That kind of thing offsets the cost of the event, so it directly benefits the geocaching community.

    To me, this Geo Quest and other ventures like it are different, because they’re treating geocaching and the individual geocaches as a form of advertising for the benefit of local businesses. This isn’t about a love for the game, or offsetting the costs of t-shirts for the local club, or cleaning up a park. The goal is commercial gain, and that’s what bugs me.

    And boy oh boy, don’t get me started on religious stuff in caches.

  3. Dear Geonarcissa,

    I hear your concerns about using geocaching for advertising purposes loud and clear.

    I can understand your strong feelings as you have seen commercial ventures exploiting geocaching for making money.

    I would really like to clarify that we are not a commercial venture. We are not filling caches with advertising, religious material or other solicitations. No caches will be located within a business or require any interaction with a business.

    We do have free stuff to give away such as: Boat rentals, white water rafting trips, mini-golf, free dinners, etc. The vouchers do have the information of the business so you know where to redeem the prize, but other than the prize vouchers, there is no “advertising”.

    I will continue to encourage feedback on this. If it offends people to have vouchers for free things, than we may consider eliminating them. It is unfortunate that it has caused you to see the project in a negative light.

    Offering prizes and swag is not an essential part of program, but to the many people who enjoy finding quality trade items in the cache, it could be a nice touch.

    The economic benefit to the region comes from more visitors spending time in the area. They will likely book accommodation and spend money at local businesses.

    Our goal is to attract people to the area and to encourage healthy, environmentally friendly activities. A major part of geocaching is discovering interesting places that you may not otherwise go to. There are many cool places to see in the Shuswap and by having geocaches in the area, it adds another reason to come and see them.

    We are working with local geocaching organizations to ensure that we have a positive impact. We are also working with municipalities, the regional district, the Shuswap Trail Alliance and many other organizations to find great locations for caches.

    We are currently liaising with the district waste management coordinator to discuss plans for a future CITO event.

    We hope to create more awareness of organizations such as bcgeocaching and support them through our initiatives. By working together we can accomplish great things. I know that many people came together to make the Gold Country region a great destination for geocaching.

    We take inspiration from the very successful Gold Country GeoTourism program. and are learning from other programs that weren’t as well received.

    I see from a posting on that you were in Kelowna recently.

    If you do plan to be in the Shuswap area, I would appreciate the chance to meet up. We are constantly adapting ideas and plans to keep improving the program.

    I appreciate the feedback and hope that through suggestions from people such as yourself we can make this project something that you could feel good about.

    I would request that you retract your comment referring to this initiative as a “scam”, we have been straightforward about what we are doing and will continue open dialogue. Please continue with constructive suggestions.

    We’d like to hear feedback from all the readers out there:

    Should we include prizes in caches or should we get rid of that idea.

    Do you have other suggestions?

  4. What are your suggestions for the most appropriate geocaching swag?

    I found this forum for ideas:

    We are including hotwheels cars, caribeeners, fridge magnets, puzzles, coins, pins, keychains, playing cards, etc.

    Would like more ideas on best things to find in a cache. When I went with my 5 year old nephew, he really liked finding hockey cards. My son is too young (11 months) to appreciate the swag but he’s been along on a bunch of cache outings.

  5. I see two victims here – the businesses who are donating prizes, likely assuming (rightly or wrongly) that they will result in more business, and the geocachers who are having their hobby co-opted as yet another economy-stimulating tourist trap.

    It says ON YOUR WEBSITE: “Individual companies and organizations will be given a unique marketing opportunity by sponsoring events and providing promotional items and prizes for caches.”

    Another tidbit, again FROM YOUR WEBSITE: “There is also an opportunity to use Geocaching and the associated events to promote your goods and services. Typically caches contain trinkets of marginal value; we would like to change that by providing an opportunity to put items that will be of mutual benefit. For example if a business provides a gift card or voucher, the geocacher will have a valuable item to choose from when they find the cache. When they come to redeem the voucher they will likely come with a friend and spend some money at the establishment. If they enjoy their experience they may turn into repeat customers.”

    Your claim that this isn’t a commercial venture is clearly a lie.

  6. Once again, the geocaching guidelines:

    Commercial caches will not be published on without prior approval from Groundspeak. A commercial cache is a geocache listing or geocache which is perceived by Groundspeak, Groundspeak’s employees, or the Volunteer Geocache Reviewers as having been submitted to with the principal or substantial intent of soliciting customers or generating commercial gain. The geocache is presumed to be commercial if the finder is required to go inside a business, interact with employees, and/or purchase a product or service, or if the cache listing has overtones of advertising, marketing, or promotion.

    Additionally, links to businesses, commercial advertisers, charities, political or social agendas, or the inclusion of their associated logos are not permitted on cache descriptions without prior permission from Groundspeak.

  7. I see that you’ve received funding for this project from the government. Are they aware that your business plan completely fails to take’s rules into consideration? Three of your first five caches violated the proximity guideline, and the cache containers are emblazoned with logos.

    Unfortunately, any hobby that rises in public profile as ours has will inevitably attract opportunists who think they can use it to their advantage somehow. Geocaching certainly has its fair share. I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one who has noticed the numerous problems with this one.

  8. I see that you have read some of the dialogue that has been posted on the forums at

    The “first 5 caches” were an example to show the format we are planning (a series of 5 new caches per week). They were never posted to and were only on our web-site for a few hours as a test run. We did not publicize the caches. Before we actually launch and publicize caches, they will all be checked to ensure that they are in line with geocaching guidelines.

    We had originally planned to recognize major prize contributors by including their logos on a label on the cache. We have decided against that.

    We have created an official geocache logo that has been approved by Groundspeak.

    As I mentioned before, the primary intention of the caches is not for commercial gain, it is to create more awareness of the beautiful areas in the region. Caches will bring people to trails, parks, beaches and other interesting locations. Many people I speak with feel that offering valuable free items would be mutually beneficial.

    We are adhering to geocaching guidelines: geocachers are not “required to go inside a business, interact with employees, and/or purchase a product or service”, the cache listing does not have overtones of advertising, marketing, or promotion. We will not include links to businesses, commercial advertisers, charities, political or social agendas, or their associated logos on cache descriptions.

    The guidelines for Cache contents say:
    “Use your common sense in most cases. Explosives, fireworks, ammo, lighters, knives (including pocket knives and multi-tools), drugs, alcohol or other illicit material shouldn’t be placed in a cache. As always respect the local laws. Geocaching is a family activity and cache contents should be suitable for all ages.

    Food items are always a bad idea. Animals have better noses than humans, and in some cases caches have been chewed through and destroyed because food items (or items that smell like food) are in the cache. Even the presence of mint flavored dental floss has led to destruction of one cache.

    If the original cache contents list any of the above items or other questionable items, or if a cache is reported to have the questionable items, the cache may be disabled, and the owner of the cache will be contacted and asked to remove the questionable items before the cache is enabled.”

    According to groundspeak prize vouchers/gift certificates are acceptable items. We will not put the name of the business that donated the prize in the cache listing. Our approach would only include tasteful items that most people would see as desirable. We would not include 2-for-1 offers or discount coupons, only free things with no requirements. For those who choose to TNLN, they don’t have to even look at the swag, they can just sign the log book.

    Again, I would like to hear from other geocachers what their thoughts are on providing prizes.

    Please offer positive suggestions of how this initiative can be improved. We are open to change!

    We could possibly eliminate the prize aspect thus getting rid of any possible commercial overtones. However, I think many people would appreciate these items.

  9. You can try to spin it any way you want, but it’s abundantly clear from your website that this is being peddled to local businesses as a marketing opportunity. There are corporate logos on your website. That’s an overtone of advertising. Swag donated by businesses hoping to generate customers is an overtone of advertising.

    Geocaches placed by geocachers already take people to beautiful locations they hadn’t seen before. I object to this project because it’s another opportunistic ploy that hijacks our game for commercial gain.

    Geocaches are supposed to be placed by geocachers, for geocachers. Littering the Shuswap with corporate geocaches cheapens the game. You’ll be taking up spaces that could otherwise be used by independent geocachers wanting to put out their own caches. You’ll be detracting attention from honestly-placed geocaches, and giving the Shuswap a reputation among serious geocachers as a place not worth caching at.


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