How Duolingo built a $250 million brand by being a jerk

“Have you been physically or emotionally wounded by Duolingo?” asked the legal professional, who promised to get victims hundreds of thousands in compensation.

It was not a true Tv set advertisement from a scummy lawyer, but an April Fool’s prank introduced previously this thirty day period by Duolingo, the popular schooling app recognized for its gamification of language discovering and for its passive-aggressive reminders (“It would be a bummer to eliminate that 7-working day streak. Just saying.”)

In the previous, Duolingo has claimed that its guilt-laden nags get far better results. In assessments, the company reportedly identified that prospects are much more possible to open up e-mail with the topic line, “You made Duo unfortunate????”

“Specifically, when we have analyzed other choices, we have found them to be among 5% and 8% significantly less efficient at finding learners to consider a lesson,” a spokesperson informed Debugger.

Increasingly, the enterprise has leaned into its reputation as kind of a bully in its marketing and advertising attempts. (“Beg for your lifetime in German!” a single user joked on Reddit.) On TikTok, the company’s mascot, Duo, a lovable green owl with a mischievous streak, has turn into like the modern day edition of the Kool-Help man. But as a substitute of unexpectedly busting as a result of partitions, it’s twerking in the business office, obtaining inappropriate with the photocopier, expressing its appreciate for Dua Lipa, and holding the office environment canine hostage until finally you do your Spanish lesson. 

And it’s functioning for Duolingo. Considering that 2021, the enterprise has grown its TikTok viewers to 4 million followers and routinely fetches a lot more than 1 million views per video. At the exact same time, it is come to be one particular of the most well known instructional applications with far more than 500 million downloads and $250 million in revenue in 2021, up 55% from 2020.

Of program, Duolingo is not the to start with model to acquire followers by staying humorous and irreverent on social media: Models like Wendy’s, Harmless Drinks, and Steak-umm have witnessed their controversial takes—and brutal roasts of persons on Twitter—get consideration. But the company absolutely stands apart in the e-studying industry, the place competitors like Rosetta Stone and Babbel are generally far more major and specialist, and are likely to emphasis their social media marketing on sharing written content about the subjects they train.

TikTok buyers comply with Duolingo since its posts are amusing. But some exploration indicates that an irreverent strategy also will come throughout as additional reliable to individuals than conventional advertising and can significantly influence the perceived benefit of a company’s products and solutions and the notion of a brand’s trustworthiness.

Frequently employing the Duo owl mascot as the butt of the joke is disarming, and pointing out that it’s a model making use of social media to arrive at buyers assists the enterprise arrive throughout as much more real. As a consequence, the dialogue feels like a shared joke, and which is particularly entertaining, even if Duolingo’s mascot is earning entertaining of by itself, its workers, or its clients.

For instance, a recent TikTok mocked homophobic consumers by pairing snarky duplicate with trending audio to make entertaining of persons who’ve remaining hateful opinions when the brand name posts LGBTQ+ material. 


we only say gay legal rights in this property #Duolingo #DulaPeep #DuaLingo #DuaLipa #comedy #pattern #gayrights

♬ initial seem – Servant of the Greatest God – Servant of the Best God

The caption for the publish reads: “We only say homosexual legal rights in this property,” a sign that the brand name is liberal and understands the cultural lexicon but is not frightened to ostracize individuals.

Granted, Duolingo’s social media solution isn’t one that most makes can pull off. Currently being silly on social media is dangerous and can backfire if not done with intention, obtain-in from leadership, and self-recognition. What will work for Duolingo is the brand’s tone of voice, which is comedic, intentionally self-referential, opinionated, and, above all, dependable, which is crucial to being plausible and memorable.

One recurring story line options the Duolingo attorney on TikTok pretending that the mascot’s actions on social media have gotten the company in legal hassle. This series is refreshing, as it is a reaction to the company’s content material getting regarded “unhinged,” so it is making an attempt in true time to make enjoyable of social media discourse on social media. Because it’s a funny, unforeseen topic to harp on, each addition builds camaraderie between the model and its followers as they’re element of a producing within joke.

Brian Honigman is a marketing marketing consultant, adjunct professor, and LinkedIn Mastering instructor.

You may also like