Zombies, ghosts, creatures of the dark, clowns and more are doing all they can to draw you in with the hopes of scaring you long enough to make it frightening, but not so bad you won’t come back.
Over the course of the last fifteen years I have lived in over 5 major A or B class cities and none of the compare to Northern Utah when it comes to concentration of haunted houses. Sure, theme parks across the nation will add spook and scare to their rides and attractions – but it is rarity to have the options to be thrilled and horrified by so many independent ghouls.
As a relative newbie to Utah, I wanted to find out how these houses of horror competed on a marketing level in such a short space of time and in a very competitive market. Three of Utah’s spookiest houses spoke up and I had the opportunity to speak to these operators and experience the scariest they had to offer. Here is how they do it and below you will find my review on the haunted houses themselves.
Innovation is a big part of marketing and haunted houses are no-exception. “20 years ago it took people two week or longer to know if you sucked or not”, said Troy Barber, operator of of Nightmare on 13th street. “Today they know within minutes!” It’ not necessarily about being scarier year over year, it is about providing a different experience. Troy went on to say that no without doubt the number one driver of customers was word of mouth.
Nightmare on 13th Street does an amazing job of driving word of mouth. From the moment you step into the haunted house your picture is taken and you get a coupon to download that picture for free on the Internet. Once you go download that picture, you are invited to share that picture online via Facebook and Twitter. Nightmare does a fantastic job of facilitating word of mouth advertising by providing free digital pictures, and making it easy to share.
Innovation and social sharing is not the only marketing tactic at work. Fear Factory in downtown works hard making sure their hard core enthusiast come back multiple times during the season. From the moment you walk into the grounds you are having a unique experience every single week within the season, and that is even before you pay to walk through the factory. Kanon (pronounced cannon) from the Fear Factory takes pride in being different and original every week.
The night we went, they added in an optional zip line for additional fun. With many projectors showing different frightening silent films, a DJ providing a club like atmosphere, and creatures roaming the grounds, Kanon has done a perfect job have making this place the coolest haunted party on the planet before the party even begins.
“This is a full entertainment venue and we are committed to pushing the limits even into midseason”, says Kanon. “I’m just trying my best to put on a good show.” No amount of billboards can do as much as an awesome customer experience. Awesome experiences get the most word of mouth. But then, the Fear Factor doesn’t need billboards. The factory has, well the factory on the side of the road. They have leveraged this freeway side presence to show passer bye’s what they are missing through creative placement of art and projection display on the buildings.
The Castle of Chaos does not have luxury of freeway exposure like the Fear Factory, but they make up for it in the breadth of traditional marketing they espouse. From race sponsorships, co-op advertising and ticket distribution through other retail operations, the Castle draws a big crowd and does not disappoint. Brian Dove, the operator for the Castle’s South Jordan location, attributes their success to two promotions.
The first promotion is the three for one special. The castle has three locations and visitors can buy a pass to all three saving them 50% if they were to buy individual tickets. This 3-for-1 is promoted everywhere and it draws people back not only a 2nd time, but a third time. Not only do they come back again and again, but they bring new friends and more friends each time.
The second promotion is that of an innovative experience, called Hands on Horror. They are the only haunted house that allows visitors to sign a waiver allowing the goblins, ghosts, clowns and demons to actually have physical contact with customers. That adds a whole new level of paranoia to the experience and people love it! It should be noted that only certified employee’s may initiate Hands on Horror and must re-certify every night to prevent inappropriate contact, no exceptions.
In summary, the haunted houses that draw the most crowds to three things really well:
- They keep innovating.
- Constantly leveraging and facilitating word of mouth advertising.
- Always catering to the existing customer.
This is great advice to the rest of us with regular living people.
Do you want to know which of three we liked the best. We, meaning myself, and two friends. We loved them all and they were all very different catering to different crowds.
Nightmare on 13th Street is perfect for families. They have a surreal experience the entire time that is sure to scare kids, but not give them nightmares. They have a variety of themes all in one place which makes it exciting and prevents boredom. Great visual effects from the floor to ceiling makes you forget you are in a building. This is where I would take my family.
Fear Factory is awesome and is where I would take my wife on a date night. It is truly for the hard core and in my opinion, for adults. It was nice to be in a place without screaming teenage girls ruining it for everyone else. The music, the atmosphere, the fun was perfect. Sure there were some kids, but those kids were not pansies. Another reason why I think this was not for kids, is how real they made it. I honestly felt like I was in a human butcher shop at times, a torture chamber at other times and the actors ages 5 and up (I think there were more child actors than not.) made this especially creepy. Not only was there terror, fright and paranoia, but so much fun a well. Near the end there is a 3 story enclosed slide that spooky clown directs you toward. It was awesome!
Castle of Chaos was also incredible, but this is where I would send my kids if I they just wanted to be with friends without parents. While it was scary it was not terrifying or damaging to the young psyche. Also a great family place. What I liked best about the Castle was the they separate you from your friends and keep you alone for awhile, mix you up into other groups, definitely true to the theme of chaos. I also loved how freaky the set was. The set designers for the Castle are incredible. Just like at the Nightmare on 13th, you completely forget you are inside a building. it was creepy most of the time and kept your mind wondering what was around the next corner. It had me on my toes the entire time.
What are your favorite haunted houses and why?