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Ivan the Gorilla dot com website mockup on an iPad

Case Study: The Ivan Foundation

By Robert Nissenbaum, TSO Media

My First Interaction With Ivan

At the entrance of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington is a sculpture of a Gorilla. I remember wondering why it was there. It seemed odd, out of place. Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium does not exhibit gorillas – and they have never been in the zoo’s animal family.

I had done a bit of research one evening, learning Ivan’s story and why the statute was at the Zoo’s entrance. I don’t remember exactly how I felt after reading about his life. The story was tough to read – here was a family who kept a magnificent animal in a cage. But I could see the human element. Ivan wasn’t a pet. He’d become part of the family. Reading more, it was easy to see how loved he was – by everyone. It wasn’t a solitary existence. He had companionship and love. It just wasn’t from his own kind.

I didn’t think much more about Ivan until Earl reached out.

Meeting Earl Borgert

On May 4th, 2019, I received a message from Earl (Ivan was part of Earl’s family. Or was that the other way around?) stating he wanted to “hire a marketing consultant to bring Ivan’s brand to the next level, advice on refining the website (www.belovedivan.org), and assistance with navigating the SEO waters (improving and increasing search engine results and rankings).”

The Goals

When the original website was built, it’s primary function was to raise funds for the sculpture. It was dedicated to Ivan’s story – the memories of his family and those who were touched by him. The sculpture now in place, Earl began thinking bigger.

He was looking to raise money to return Ivan ashes to the Congo (though part of him will always be in Tacoma as part of the sculpture). There was the idea of using his legacy to draw attention to and promote conservation of the Western lowland gorilla (and other endangered species) – and within their natural habitats.

Ivan was loved and Earl had an audience. How could he use Ivan’s legacy to bring about change?

Early discussions centered on creating a Foundation. He considered grants and scholarships.

Challenge

How do we move from the emphasis being on Ivan to it centered on the new goals, and do so without removing Ivan from the story?

Considerations

The current logo was carried over from the old site – the iconic image of Ivan reaching for the magnolia flower – inspired by his first experience at Zoo Atlanta. The original plan called for creating a new mark, one that was tied to the image, but more symbolic than literal. We wanted something that represented the new mission with broader appeal for future opportunities and growth. In the end, the decision was made to keep the logo – it was recognizable and there was a strong emotional connection to it among the Foundation’s board members.

Obstacles

There were more questions than answers.

  • How can we create an emotional connection with those who’ve never met Ivan and may only hear his story online?
  • How do we convey the impact he had on the lives he touched?
  • How do we share his past and demonstrate what we learned from it without judgment?
  • How do we introduce a younger generation to Ivan?
  • How do we create a “digital” presence for something that was highly experiential?

The biggest obstacle would be moving the e-commerce store – and do so without losing orders or downtime. We also needed an avenue to expand the store – one that could permit shoppers to purchase items on demand. This would limit the need for upfront costs and inventory while offering more variety without licensing the brand’s trademark.

The Solution

Development of a new website. We’d create new content around the goals while bringing in Ivan’s story. The new website would be under the domain ivanthegorilla.org rather than theivanfoundation.org (which is now forwarded) to keep with his legacy and to help with SEO. The old site would remain active, with the home page permanently redirected to the new site. Internal pages would be redirected as content was imported.

To help with fundraising efforts, beyond what income is generated through the online store, we’ve added a donation page using the GiveWP plugin.

An ongoing social media campaign has been created with a content strategy based on educating individuals about the awareness of conservation, endangered species, and habitat preservation in conjunction with promoting internal goals”.

Ivan the Gorilla dot com website mockup on an iPad
Ivan the Gorilla Site Redesign by Fat Dog Creatives’ Rhonda Negard
photo of Robert Nissenbaum
Robert Nissenbaum

Rhonda’s Input

How can we create an emotional connection with those who’ve never met Ivan and may only hear his story online? How do we introduce a younger generation to Ivan? How do we convey the impact he had on the lives he touched? How do we create a “digital” presence for something that was highly experiential?

I used Ivan’s photos to create a scrapbook-like storybook to flow with the new content written by Robert (TSO Media). I selected the most gentle and loving photos of Ivan and designed them in a scrapbook style to help them feel more like real life and evoke nostalgia. To create and keep interest in the younger population, I used more hand-drawn icons to show more realism than a polished website typically would look.

My goals for Ivan would be to eventually include some free downloadable coloring sheets for use on iPads or printing and using markers or colored pencils to help create a more interactive connection for children.

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