Dynamic Marketing Communiqué

“Spanish or Vanish” – How this brand’s passive-aggressive character helped it become viral on TikTok! [Thursdays: FYO!]

December 2, 2021

“Hi, it’s Duo!”

For those of you who are studying new languages through various mobile apps, have you ever encountered this message and started to feel uneasy, like you forgot something very important?

If your answer is “yes,” you’re not the only one…  

Despite its cute and cartoonish appearance, language learning website Duolingo’s green owl mascot (“Duo”) has earned a reputation as the “Evil Duolingo Owl” because of its passive-aggressive reminders like, “Your Japanese lessons won’t take themselves!” 

Ignore the owl for too long and it will definitely make you feel guilty for missing a second of your language lessons.

“These reminders don’t seem to be working. We’ll stop sending them now.”

However, do you know there’s a silver lining in Duo’s passive-aggressive character? 

Duo’s notoriety is the exact reason why the Duolingo app became one of TikTok’s most viral brands in 2021!

In February 2021, the company decided to create its own account in one of the most popular social media applications, TikTok. According to Duolingo’s social media coordinator, Zaria Parvez, there is a natural link between the brand and TikTok because they are both centered around having fun and entertaining people. 

Let’s first talk about TikTok as one of the social media platforms used by many businesses to advertise their brands… 

TikTok is a video-focused social networking service owned by Chinese company Bytedance. With over 500 million active global users, it is one of the best advertising platforms in the world. 

Some benefits of advertising on TikTok are:

  • You can reach a diverse audience through TikTok. Contrary to popular belief that the platform is only populated by the “younger crowd,” TikTok is actually used by a broad demographic. According to Wordstream, an online PPC (pay-per-click) advertising agency, 59% of the platform is made up of users from Millennial, GenX, and even Baby Boomer generations, while the remaining 41% are GenZs. This means when you advertise on this platform, your brand has a chance to appeal to multiple age groups!
  • It has versatile ad formats. Two of these formats include top view ads and in-feed ads. Topview ads appear as soon as a user opens the app. On the other hand, in-feed ads are integrated into users’ “For You Page,” allowing them to interact with a video by liking, commenting, and sharing it.
  • It increases brand exposure. The chance to be viral on TikTok isn’t limited to popular influencers with millions of followers. Anyone can participate in trends and have their videos go viral! Utilizing daily trends increases your ad’s relevancy and its likelihood to be shown on someone’s feed because it allows for frequent content rhythm, instant relevance, and continual discovery.
  • You can implement effective video marketing. Since TikTok’s medium is solely video, advertisers can connect with users through visuals and sounds. You can use popular songs and appealing visuals in your ads to make your content more appealing.    

Going back to Duolingo’s TikTok marketing strategy… 

The language-learning app strategically used the social media app to entertain its audience, making Duolingo one of TikTok’s most viral brands. The company’s videos reach millions of views and likes!

Aside from that, what did Duolingo do to stand out from the rest of the brands that are also on TikTok?

It made its mascot, Duo, the main character in all of its videos!

Duolingo believes this is the most ideal strategy because the green owl is an iconic figure. Duo even has a whole meme category dedicated to it as a result of its persistent reminders for users to complete their language lessons.

The brand isn’t just using its mascot’s reputation to entertain its users. It’s also taking advantage of trending sounds and memes on TikTok and applying them to Duolingo’s video content.

These posts vary from videos of Duo chasing employees around Duolingo’s East Liberty Office to videos of the green owl twerking atop a conference table to a remix of Adele’s “Easy on Me” with rapper CupcakKe!

Duo is also up-to-date on almost any trending topic!

In November 2021, when American singer-songwriter Taylor Swift released her re-recorded album, “Red (Taylor’s Version),” Duolingo posted a video of Duo practicing its “emotionally wrecked wall slide” for “All Too Well,” one of the songs in the album. 

The owl even put on red lipstick to really get into the album’s vibe!

This video garnered 3.1 million views and more than 600,000 likes three days after it was posted!

Here are other results of Duolingo’s overall TikTok marketing strategy:

  • As of November 2021, the brand’s TikTok posts have generated a combined 95 million+ views and 19.9 million+ likes.
  • From late September to early November 2021, Duolingo gained 1.3 million new followers! That’s a huge growth in just a matter of weeks!

Thanks to TikTok, Duolingo is able to expand its target audience and stay true to its commitment to “just having fun.”

… and while getting users to sign up for Duolingo is a goal, it wasn’t the main objective of the brand’s TikTok marketing strategy. Parvez said the company’s main goal for this effort is to “be here and be present with people.”

As a business owner or marketer, take advantage of today’s viral social media platforms, topics, and memes to entertain your target market and let them know who you are beyond your product or service.

Plus, always remember to stay true to what your brand is at its core! 

From there, use social media to connect with your target market online, establish a positive reputation, or upload entertaining, compelling, and shareable videos. 

Get inspired by Duolingo’s TikTok marketing strategy!

Be bold and have fun to effectively capture your target market’s attention, gain more customers, and help them easily FIND YOU online!

About The Dynamic Marketing Communiqué’s
“Thursdays: FYO! Find You Optimization”

Why should you stop thinking SEO and start thinking FYO?

We’re not saying that you should abandon Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Don’t get us wrong, of course, we know this is something very important, especially in today’s digital marketing age.

The internet landscape is vast, and a world of its own. You really need to distinguish yourself and make your brand/company/website known and easily searchable.

Better yet, get to the top of page one for Top Results on Google or any other search engine.

However, what is the purpose of SEO? It’s that customers Find You!

That’s what matters. So, while SEO is one factor of FYO… it really is only one, and we ought not to abandon all the myriad of ways digitally and offline for improving your FYO.

How can we look at this from a different and better perspective?

Let’s say you have it in the bag! You and your team are experts in SEO. Awesome. But did you ever wonder what else you could do to push it further and give your SEO skills a boost?

FYO! Find You Optimization!

You need your target audience to FIND YOU—your brand, product, service, or offer. This is SEO plus other tools that increase visibility online (and offline).

Every Thursday, we publish content on how you can get your target market to find you, beyond the typical “type and search.” There are other things you can do along with your SEO to give your online advertising process a boost.

Try considering other tactics beyond it—WOMO (Word Of Mouth Optimization), RO (Referral Optimization), and “All-Other-Means-Of-Getting-Your-Target-Market-To-Find-You” Optimization (AOMOGYTMTFY, if you’d like a long acronym). 

Part of a great marketing strategy is knowing how to adapt new methods and make use of different types of marketing and promotion that best fit your business goals and which give you the results you want.

Hope you’ve found this week’s insights interesting and helpful.

Stay tuned for next Thursday’s FYO!


Kyle Yu 
Head of Marketing 
Valens Dynamic Marketing Capabilities 
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