Creating an Immersive New Website CX for Iconic the Gruffalo and Serving Up 35,000 Extra Monthly Visitors

Distinction is creating a new, dynamic and immersive website that would delight both children and adults alike took a voyage of discovery on how 3 to 8 year-olds engage with stories, games, even technology itself.

Improving the CX didn’t just delight the site visitors, it also produced brilliant results too, including an increase of over 35,000 average monthly visitors, with over 70% of new visits from over 160 countries.

Happily Lost in the Deep Dark Woods

A global brand like ‘The Gruffalo’ and its series of books has many owners. First and foremost, there’s its visionary creator, author Julia Donaldson. Then there’s the books’ illustrator, Axel Scheffler, who has brought a captivating cast of characters to magical life. Then there’s the books’ publishers – Pan Macmillan – the people who approached Distinction with a simple goal: to provide an engaging global online presence for the Gruffalo ahead of the book’s 15th anniversary.

Addressing the Core Audience

But the truth is, more than anything, that the Gruffalo belongs to its readers, the children whose imaginations continue to be fired and who remain enduringly attracted to the enchanting woodland beast.

So while Pan Macmillan’s challenge was clear – in recognizing the existing website was lagging behind every other aspect of merchandise, from toys to TV to pop-up events –the solution was equally clear to Distinction. This was to turn to the children and learn what they wanted from a new Gruffalo website.

Finding the Right Path

So Distinction put themselves in front of the primary target audience – 3 to 8 year-olds – and sat back and learned, and learned, and learned.

They discovered that given the right stimulus, they could lose themselves in a fantasy world. Interestingly, they found children to be much more capable of playing on digital devices than even their parents knew. Most of all, they learned that even young children could be pretty autonomous, and capable of occupying themselves for ten minutes or more, absorbed in stimulating activity.

Creating an Immersive World

To answer the children’s wishes, Distinction created a beautifully immersive world called ‘The Deep Dark Wood’. Here, children were free to explore, play, and do anything they wanted. Filling the screen, and rich with child-friendly games and activities, here their aim of giving children plenty to do, plenty to read, plenty to learn, plenty to enjoy was brought to vivid life.

Beautifully illustrated by their friends at Aardman Animation, this mobile-first online experience also featured stories and singalongs with author Julia Donaldson.

Answering the Secondary Audience

Of course, whereas children are looking for fun, the adult’s agenda is slightly different. This meant including teaching materials, opportunities to buy Gruffalo books, toys, and merchandise, and clear signals for activities that would be sure to keep kids busy and happy.

Without disrupting the immersive world, the children are busily enjoying, Distinction included a host of downloadable activity sheets, pictures to color, and stories to read. And because they always aimed to promote deeper engagement, they made certain that a two-way path made it easy and fun to enter competitions, win prizes, share photos, and upload content.


Straddling Many Different Fences

Naturally, there were obstacles along the way. With so many different stakeholders having investment in the Gruffalo brand it meant meeting all kinds of different agendas. Not having easy or regular access to the author and illustrator meant the decision line was principally through the publisher.

But, as Distinction has experienced time and again, by earning trust as the impartial and independent project leader, and by evidencing the need to put the audience first, the Distinction team was freed to act quickly and decisively on delivering a website that to this day remains a user-centric joy.

Delighting in Unexpected Ways

It’s a source of great pride to them that they were able to delight the children and the parents and, ultimately, Julia Donaldson, who was thrilled with the results when they first revealed the new website.

In doing so, Distinction revealed a few extra tricks up their sleeves. Another delight was in the Easter eggs they dotted through the site. Keeping quiet about the hidden events they’d secretly built into the site, they revealed themselves as they should…to the unexpected pleasure of unsuspecting witnesses. The ant crawling across the screen mid-meeting is just one example.

Delivering an Engaging World, Across the World

Distinction built the site using HTML5 and JavaScript to ensure it works across all major platforms and devices. The site is also easy to edit and update with new events, activities, and content. And it’s hosted in Microsoft’s Azure cloud to make sure it can cope with spikes in traffic following a series of successful marketing and TV campaigns.

First created in 2008, it’s rewarding to see that despite regular updates, the website today remains the same as the one they first launched. It’s testimony to the quality of their initial hard work and pleasing for Pan Macmillan who have not had to invest majorly in the site since its arrival on the world stage.


The results were as gratifying as they were impressive. The site received an increase of over 35,000 average monthly users and 70% of new visits were from over 160 countries. An average page load time of fewer than two seconds was achieved. And visitors spent an average of ftheir minutes on the site, with 10% of traffic spending over 10 minutes on the site each time they visited.

About Distinction

Distinction is the digital product studio who’ll make you stand out. They work with clients to disrupt their sector, challenge the competition, and capture market share by delivering experiences users love.