Duo the Duolingo Owl | Campaign of the Week

Izzy Hall

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Welcome to Campaign of the Week, where we explore some of the freshest and most exciting campaigns from the brands that are engaging their Gen Z audience and catching our attention every week. Today we’re looking at the language-learning app Duolingo’s mascot, Duo the owl. 

Some brands are just starting to dip their toes into TikTok, discovering the benefits of using it to market to Gen Z audiences. Some are really into the swing of things and have nailed on their marketing strategies and know just what videos to post at what time. And a handful of brands have completely nailed it and have gained millions of Gen Z fans worldwide – one of these is Duolingo. 

What is Duolingo?

Duolingo is a language-learning app that helps people of all ages to reconnect with languages and learn new and exciting ones. From vocabulary to grammar, pronunciation to spelling, this easy-to-use app helps thousands of people learn something new every day. Whilst the app is free, there is also the option to upgrade to more premium, paid content. 

But the real star of the show is the app’s mascot, Duo the green owl. Duo has been around for a while, and is no newbie to the world of social media – he’s been appearing on Tumblr in meme-form for quite some time now. However, more recently and thanks to the brand’s 23-year-old Social Media Coordinator Zaria Parvez, Duo has become the VERY famous face of the brand. 


Who is Duo?

Thanks to Duo (and, of course, Zaria), the brand has earned itself 2.9M followers and 54.5M likes on TikTok. One of their highest-ranked videos have 24.2M views and 5.3M likes… and every one features Duo the green owl. Content regularly taps into viral audios or trends on the app and are created and shared in record time, allowing them to gain a significant amount of attention in a short time. 

It’s hard to describe Duolingo’s videos without sounding like we’ve lost the plot, but one of their best videos aligns itself with a Taylor Swift-themed trend, in which Duo despairingly slides down a glass door to the tune of Taylor Swift’s ‘Enchanted’ (the lyrics are ‘please don’t be in love with someone else’). The on-screen text reads ‘when you use Google Translate instead of actually learning a language’, alongside the caption ‘every time you open Google Translate, I lose a feather.’ It’s absolutely hilarious content.

The brand also interacts with other TikTokers using their iconic tone of voice – sarcasm. From comments replying to specific brands (e.g in response to a comment from ABH Cosmetics, Duo replied ‘can you do my brows for the next video) to ‘work hard not smart babes’, the brand is simply great entertainment.

Check out the video below.


Why do we love it? 

So why do we, and Gen Z, love it? Well, it’s authentic, original and funny content, and this is something that Gen Z adore. It also proves that absurdist marketing – the kind that is slightly off-brand, chaotic and unexpected – is much more popular than well-rehearsed, formulaic marketing. Or, as The Drum put it: ‘A sift from authentic to absurdist advertising on TikTok serves as a micro digital shift with the potential for macro disruption.’ 


Using TikTok as their platform of choice is also a great bonus, thanks to its authenticity and viral nature. TikTok allows people to be themselves and for companies to put a face to their brand – thanks to Duo, Duolingo has caught the attention of NBC News, Insider and even Rolling Stone magazines. According to The Drum: ‘…studies have found that ads on TikTok are more memorable than those found on other platforms. TikTok users also associate brand content on the platform with a remarkably high degree of authenticity.’ Users don’t feel like they’re being sold a product, and thanks to the brand’s interaction with other TikTokers in the comments section of their videos and generally being a sarcastic, slightly mean presence, they’re really giving themselves a strong brand personality. And, perhaps most importantly, this isn’t a big marketing ploy run by a giant conglomerate. Duolingo provide an accessible and free service, their company is made up of over under 500 employees and their viral content was made in-house.

Isn’t this just more proof that if you wanted to engage Gen Z, then employ Gen Z?! They know what their generation wants, and their not afraid to do it. Listen to Duo.

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[Cover image 📷: @duolingo on Instagram]


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