Just one year ago today, we were having the time of our lives. We had just announced Cheetah Chase, and were celebrating a very successful announcement. As we looked back, we realized there are so many untold stories from that time, we just needed to share a few:
When we announce a big attraction like Thunderbird or Cheetah Chase, we keep the group of people “in the know” as small as possible. We only announced Cheetah Chase to our full-time staff the morning of the announcement. And we used that time to practice our official announcement (sans Chad Benefield of course).
Speaking of Chad, we invited WBKR Owensboro’s Chad Benefield to hype up the crowd before the announcement began, and he had no idea what was about to be announced. He did the same thing for Thunderbird.
Long story short: those who were “in the know” had a huge secret to keep. Those who didn’t know were dying to find out. We had given the project a code name internally: Purple Elephant. It originated from a marketing firm that years ago told us we needed a “Purple Cow” every so often to catch people’s attention. Somehow the cow became an elephant. Don’t ask me.
Also if you never got to watch the announcement I’ll share it here and only here because there’s a lot of time spent zoomed in on myself, Lauren and Matt and I certainly don’t need that in my life:
The Accounts, in order of enthusiasm (AKA how quickly people responded to me)
Lisa Beers – Food and Beverage Manager
I actually had a team member Brennan Franklin who guessed it correctly. He watched all the blogs, read the clues and researched it. He always reminds me that he guessed it correctly.
Bryan McBride – Regional Sales Rep
As a member of the sales team, I frequently update our business leaders and groups with emails and social media posts. I figured that the ride announcement would be big, so I kept hyping it up even though I didn’t know any specifics. It was a blast and I only discovered the answers when they were revealed on stage!
Lori Cotton – Director of Attractions
Oh, that day! I do remember several things:
I recall hustling through Splashin’ Safari with a giant tilt lifeguard umbrella because the audio/visual equipment was overheating in the sun (and for a 5’3” person, that was a struggle!)
I also remember stepping away for the energetic crowd, just after the name appeared on the screen, to radio the news to all my Safari Management Staff – because they ALL wanted to be at the announcement and I was the “mean boss” who made them stay where they could hear whistles. I don’t like being “mean,” so I had to redeem myself!
I also greatly enjoy watching the faces of those around me watch the video – the excitement in their faces never disappoints! (This was also true for me during the Thunderbird announcement.)
And, most of all, I remember being proud – so very incredibly proud – because this was the very first attraction that I had a hand in from the earlier stages. This was a lot of secretly learning and researching, waking up with ideas and jotting them down at 3am, creative energy moments come to life. This was the moment it all became completely REAL!
Eric Snow – Vice President of Marketing, Sales, and Entertainment
The running Mammoth gif and the procurement and counting of all the Cheetah Chase socks from J Crew (RIP) were quite memorable. “How many would you like?” asks the Jcrew Outlet phone salesperson.
“All of them.”
Stephen Rutherford – Creative Manager
About one day after moving into my new position in the marketing department on July 1, 2019, Eric and Ashley met with me to clue me in on “Purple Elephant.” I was so excited to be part of it and be “in the know” – then they told me about putting together the Announcement video and other teaser/announcement materials… in just over a month. I was then more terrified than excited.
I was able to work with two talented artists that made the animations and then edited the video with the music and sound effects. It was an amazing experience and I honestly can’t wait to do it again!
This is the video Stephen helped pull together:
Matt Eckert – President
Leah Paraphrasing here: I just remember how much fun it was to watch everyone’s faces as we played the videos. You could just feel the energy and it was amazing.
Anthony Vancamp – Maintenance Manager, North Shop (the shop the handles water park maintenance)
I was in on it from the beginning planning. Purple elephant. I remember doing all sorts of jobs and tasks that I could not share. Utility tracing to clearing out the area of trees and getting soil samples! Was so hard not to slip up to anyone who would ask what was going on! Was a great experience going from, is this attraction going to fit here to it’s there and functioning!
I’m sure I have more memories, these just came to mind first.
Josh Moore – Digital Communications Strategist
About two weeks before we announced Cheetah Chase, I was brought into the “Cone of Silence” to join the other small group of people who knew about the ride before it was announced.
I was a little intimidated. I had to design the email introducing a first-of-its-kind water coaster to the world!
My workspace is an open-air cubicle that has constant foot traffic nearby during the operating season. A quick glance in my general direction and you can see whatever is on my computer screen.
Leah’s note here: Every time I talked to Josh out at his cubicle after he was told, I swear I shouted Cheetah Chase at least once.
To help keep everything under wraps, I emptied out several three-ring binders and built walls around my computer and angled my computer monitors away from the walkway so I could continue to design the email in private. I didn’t want to be responsible for someone seeing Cheetah Chase early and spoiling the surprise!
Once that was finished and the email was scheduled to send out to everyone on our email list moments after we announced it in the park, I got to relax and enjoy the announcement ceremony beside Wildebeestro. My favorite memory is seeing all the Guests waiting in line for Bakuli drop everything and completely forget about their upcoming ride to watch the Cheetah Chase announcement video!
Me – Sorry I’m long-winded…
I just remember taking over Communications at the beginning of June and feeling like this announcement would be the make-or-break moment for me and would set the tone for how I was going to run this department (you know, no pressure or anything). As the marketing and Communications team planned the tease campaign, I started to feel like I was hitting my stride. Things were going unbelievably well…
…Then I sent an email out to all the full-time staff (a week before we planned to tell them) with a 2-page document with the words “Cheetah Chase” at the very end. I panicked and recalled it, but some people saw it.
It wasn’t even the first time. Everyone in the offices probably thought the name of the new ride was “Cheetah… CRAP!” because I kept forgetting.
The thrill of the chase… AKA our “Tease Campaign”
We made a strategic choice early to signal to our fans that it wasn’t going to be some monstrous coaster, but it was going to be exciting and we pointed everyone in the direction of the water park fairly early.
We started by dropping a single date on our social media accounts to announce the date of the first clue and the start of the tease campaign. Note to self: don’t do that again. Everyone thought we were Beyonce trying to drop a ride the very next day. We disappointed a lot of people with that one.
But we took it in stride and decided to have some random fun along the way. The perfect example? The cheetah socks. We ordered those from J. Crew Factory (see Eric Snow’s post for how that conversation went) on sale for $3 apiece. We dove in. And we recorded a video of Santa giving Safari Sam lots and lots of socks for Christmas in July. Honestly, it confused people exactly the right amount.
We also introduced some loaded fries with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (credit for the socks and thinking to incorporate Cheetos into a lot of our campaign goes to our Director of Sales, Dave Hedge by the way). Which may have been my favorite new food ever at the park.
One of my favorite memories was having Bobby and Liberty from MY WJLT come to the park while we were teasing the attraction, and Liberty grilling myself, Lauren, and Matt Eckert. Matt Eckert certainly fared the best, somehow turning questions back around on them. They were there the day we released the Safari Sam socks video, and I just remember Liberty being dumbfounded by what she had just seen (she watched right before going back on-air). It’s always kind of fun to watch someone else try to decode your mostly-nonsense clues. 🙂 Sorry Liberty.
Here’s the video that had two important clues: This, in fact, was a water park attraction, and it was going to involve a Cheetah.
After the announcement, I remember sitting down to finally eat lunch after sending most of the reporters out, when I got a text that CNN was trying to get ahold of me. I stood up in the middle of Subway and started pacing and making phone calls immediately and firing off emails in between bites of my sandwich. We got ProSlide, the manufacturer of Cheetah Chase, to be a source for the article as well and by the next day, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari was on CNN! And Cheetah Chase made the home page of CNN! (We even took a video screenshot to save!) I couldn’t believe it. I just remember feeling electricity in my veins as I chased down reporters for the rest of the day and relished in the success of a new ride and the announcement that had gone off perfectly.
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