Hersheypark builds buzz for 2012 attraction with viral marketing campaign

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Reporting from Hersheypark in Hershey, Pa.-- A mysterious series of hidden messages, encrypted codes and tantalizing symbols has theme park enthusiasts wondering what Hersheypark has planned for 2012.

Here’s what we know: Construction has already begun on a 212-foot-tall attraction in the Comet Hollow area of Hersheypark, with an official announcement planned for Aug. 2.

Beyond that, the amusement park has released no official information on Attraction 2012 while simultaneously sprinkling clues in an elaborate viral-marketing campaign designed to generate buzz for the new ride.

Photos: Hersheypark’s 11 roller coasters (and Attraction 2012 contenders)

During my visit, construction crews were busy clearing land and setting footers for Attraction 2012 just to the west of the Comet wooden coaster. I spotted light-blue coaster supports stored behind the Lightning Racer wooden coaster on Park Avenue along the park’s perimeter.

The new attraction may be called Skyrush, according to a trademark application filed by Hershey Entertainment. Hersheypark employees have been told the attraction will be the tallest coaster in the park.

An announcement with complete details about just what’s in store for 2012 is expected on Aug. 2 at 12:12 p.m.

So far, all signs point to Hersheypark adding its 12th roller coaster in 2012 – an educated guess that park officials have so far declined to confirm or deny. The manufactured mystery has ride enthusiasts digging for clues and analyzing evidence gleaned from the Ride Institute of Technology, a fictitious roller coaster think tank that has been dropping hints online and in the park since late last year.

The RIT website, the heart of the viral campaign, has released a series of scientific studies laden with terms, numbers and dates that hint at the true identity of Hersheypark’s mystery ride.

While the studies make veiled references to several Hersheypark roller coasters, the RIT logo features a red shield with 12 stars – leading to speculation that the park is preparing to add a 12th coaster.

Keystone Thrills, a fan site dedicated to Pennsylvania theme parks, has taken the lead in unlocking the mystery of Attraction 2012.

During an October trip to Hersheypark, Keystone Thrills members were approached by a trio of RIT researchers in white lab coats who peppered the bewildered fans with questions about roller coasters. At the end of the survey, the researchers handed the coaster enthusiasts an envelope containing puzzle pieces. When pieced together, the puzzle read: “See you in the spring… Game on!”

Since then, members of the Keystone Thrills online community have communicated with the RIT researchers employing encrypted email and deciphered clues on the RIT website and have created a layout of the ride based on survey markers found around the park. A cipher found deep in the programming code of the RIT website pays tribute to Hersheypark’s last viral marketing campaign for the 2008 Fahrenheit coaster.

Other websites have since joined in the hunt.

Screamscape reports the new Hersheypark coaster will be the park’s longest, with a 3,400-foot-long track that may pass through the nearby 1946 Comet wooden coaster.

Destination Hershey, a site that covers both the park and the chocolate-centric town, keeps a tally of uncovered clues and a log of newspaper and television news stories about Attraction 2012.

And much to Hersheypark’s delight, online speculation abounds about the possible coasters heading to the park – including a Bolliger & Mabillard Wing Rider (similar to Raptor at Italy’s Gardaland), an Intamin Mega-Lite (found only in China, Japan and Denmark) and a Bolliger & Mabillard Diving Machine (installed at Busch Gardens parks in Tampa, Florida and Williamsburg, Virginia).

In June, Pennsylvania Coaster News snapped photos of light-blue steel coaster supports newly arrived at the park with a tell-tale Intamin design.

Hersheypark remains officially mum.