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The Language of Advertising: Duolingo’s Marketing Strategy

Duolingo, the revolutionary language app has grown significantly as a company since its inception in 2012. It has become the premier way to learn a language online for free, and for good reason. With over 30 languages offered ranging from French to the Star Trek language, Klingon, all arranged in perfectly pint sized lessons, there is no reason to not learn a new language on the app. And if all of that doesn’t convince you, maybe Duolingo’s social media based marketing strategy, mainly on TikTok will.

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Duolingo has long been part of a meme online depicting the company’s flagship owl, Duo, threatening the app user’s family if they don’t complete their German lesson. Or how could we forget the famous “Spanish or Vanish.” This, however, is not how Duo wants to go down in history. He is determined to make himself known as a TikTok celebrity who is just a relatable guy.

The company’s marketing strategy has been based on user engagement on social media sites. They started by transforming their mascot, Duo, into an online influencer. He can be seen in their TikToks participating in trends, Duo creating parodies of other trends, and interacting with fans through the comment section.

Fluent Flicker, Flash, Flare

Duo’s claim to fame on TikTok used the TikTok content creation strategy: Flicker, Flash, Flare. The strategy grows brand awareness by using “Flicker”, frequently posted, trend based content, “Flash”, higher quality content posted on a regular basis, and “Flicker”, larger social media campaigns done up to three times a year. What users may first recognize with Duolingo is their Flicker content, the owl mascot, Duo, most recently participated in the Harry Potter Chess Remix trend. However, the brand has participated in “Flash” content, although this content on their platform typically gets less user interaction. “Flare” content, by nature being rare, can be most recently seen when the app has added music and math learning sections, which they have campaigned for on TikTok.

The bird’s Twitter is also rampant with his signature sass. Where he seemingly posts selfies of himself and his indifferent best friend Lily, and videos of him twerking on tables. This relatable content seems to resonate with app users, due the the brand’s posting schedule and content, the account has amassed close to 8 million TikTok followers, and more than half a million Twitter followers. The persona of the brand also increases engagement, with followers in the comments trying to get the owl’s attention or laughing at the brand’s awareness of their consumer’s interests.

Creator Collaborations

Another thing Duo can speak fluently is the language of friendship. Duolingo has frequently participated in creator collaborations especially with other mascot brands. Filming TikToks with other mascots, especially those that follow a “Flicker'' based approach, ie. using trending sounds, appeals to the audience’s humor by the sheer absurdity of the brand’s chosen collaborators. Scrub Daddy, The Teletubbies, and Duolingo share nothing in common as brands, but user’s loved their rendition of Paternity Court, with the TikTok racking up almost half a million likes. Aside from providing entertainment, creator collaborations also help grow the brand's audience by getting on the radar of people who may not use Duolingo, but now may want to help the brand. Collaborating with brands such as The Teletubbies may also help them appeal to a newer generation of users, which the brand caters to as well with their Duolingo Kids app.

The Duolity of Brands

Duolingo has definitely broken the stuffy facade that many associate with established brands. People don’t want to see brands taking themselves too seriously. Seriousness is the norm, but what tends to gain traction are things that stand out, and brands acting just like their users, and that have the ability to laugh at themselves are very endearing. Many brands seem to have followed suit after Duolingo. Brands such as Scrub Daddy, The Teletubbies, who have collaborated with Duolingo are such examples. However, we can also see brands not associated with Duolingo taking this approach. Ryanair, a budget European airline, has a TikTok account with over two million followers, and they use a personified airplane that often pokes fun at the no-frills features of their airline. Grip Clean, which offers heavy duty hand cleaning products, have also participated in “Flicker” based content, but tend to focus on explicitly product promotion.

Many brands when approaching algorithms on social media should focus on researching the best ones to implement, and even then they would have to optimize, such as Duolingo, they quickly figured out that leaning into their sillier side most of the time has resulted in better user interaction, rather than explicitly promoting their app through language lessons. Learning how to market your brand on social media is a valuable skill, and one that gives you a lot of creativity when it comes down to the type of content you can make, and with who. Social media platforms are ever evolving and offering different modes of getting content out there, which can be quite fruitful when done right.


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