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From creepy to viral: How Duolingo broke TikTok and won 1 Billion active users



Do you remember innocently scrolling through your phone when a Duolingo notification suddenly pops up? 'It's been 3 days since you last practiced Spanish. We miss you.' An icon of a green owl with unblinking eyes sends shivers down your spine. You turn to Twitter to complain, only to find countless others sharing memes about Duolingo's aggressive and guilt-tripping push notifications.

So how did this language-learning platform manage to break free of its reputation and capture the hearts (or rather, laughter) of millions?

Cracking the code:

With its quirky green owl mascot and an uncanny understanding of Tiktok's dynamics, Duolingo created a viral marketing strategy that left a lasting impression. Instead of shying away from the memes, they drove headfirst into making fun of themselves! Duolingo's social media pages stopped promoting the language app. Rather than using TikTok as a direct sales channel, Duolingo focuses on entertaining its audience. They understood that TikTok users craved fun, not a sales pitch.


Leaning into the 'crazy':

The secret to Duolingo's TikTok success lies in their willingness to embrace the "unhinged" nature of the platform. Recognizing the viral status of Duolingo and the memes surrounding the brand, Duolingo seamlessly integrated these elements into their corporate content on TikTok. From witty wordplay to cheeky responses to user comments, the language-learning app turned potential negativity into engaging and entertaining content. Duolingo's lighthearted threats for incomplete lessons became a signature feature, resonating with users already familiar with the green mascot.

Becoming the new favourite Genz brand:

What does every brand on TikTok want to be? The Genz population's favourite brand. Duolingo hit the jackpot by staying in touch with pop culture references and incorporating them into their TikTok videos. If you look at their TikTok and reel content, you will notice that Duolingo is always among the first to hop on a new trend! Duolingo's commitment to maintaining its relevancy is truly commendable. If only we displayed such dedication to finish our French lessons from 5 years ago.

The Rise of the Owl:

The Duolingo green owl became an internet sensation. Some argue that it always has been one. Previously known for haunting our nightmares of incomplete lessons and bad grades, the owl brand recognized the power of embracing their quirky reputation and became a force to be reckoned with. Users even began creating fan art, writing fanfiction, and even cosplaying as the famous owl. With the owl casually going rogue on TikTok and going viral for it, Duolingo achieved what many brands strive for – an organic connection with their audience.

Soaring to new heights:

As Duolingo's influence grew, so did Duolingo's TikTok following. Millions of users eagerly awaited the next instalment of Duolingo's antics. Surpassing even industry giants like Nike, Disney and McDonald's, the brand positioned itself among the top 10 most followed brand accounts on TikTok with over 6.7 million followers. The Duolingo app grew to have over 1 billion monthly active users too!

So, if you want to know how to go viral, take a page from Duo's book, embrace satire and enjoy virality!

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