7 Reasons Why the Duolingo Owl is the Greatest Marketing Mentor of All Time

Reasons Why The Duolingo Owl is the Marketing Mentor We All Need - Hero Image

Madonna. RuPaul. Cher. Duo.

Move over, mononym celebrities. There’s a new bird in town, and he’s teaching us all a thing or two about what it means to make a name for yourself in the eat-or-be-eaten arena of TikTok marketing.

We’ve spoken a lot on our blog about the importance of mentoring for marketing agency leaders. Mentors offer perspective and wisdom, access to an expanded professional network, and the opportunity to hone one’s leadership skills by mirroring the example set forth by a successful leader who has already walked the walk.

While the World Federation of Advertisers has previously named Asmita Dubey (Chief Digital and Marketing Officer at L’Oreal) Global Marketer of the Year, our team has done the math and determined that the Greatest Marketing Mentor of All Time is actually none other than Duo, the glamorous and growth-minded six-foot-tall Owl at the helm of marketing for language learning app, Duolingo.

Today, we’re listing all the reasons why we’ve given Duo this prestigious title. If you’re in need of some marketing inspiration today, look no further. We’ve got you covered.

The Rise of Duo, From Fledgling to Flight

The launch of Duo’s career in marketing was characterized by humble beginnings. Hatched as a mere collection of 2D shapes and later evolved into a slightly more lively cartoon illustration, Duo’s early years were spent primarily within the app, accompanying learners along their journey to new language proficiency.

Duolingo happy vs angry

Source: Duolingo Brand Guide

However, early on, it was clear that Duo wasn’t your average bird. While he undeniably offered praise when learners logged into the app to accomplish their goals, he often found himself ruffling feathers when users would neglect their studies. 

Duolingo crying

Source: Twitter

During his time as a spunky cartoon avatar, Duo wore his heart on his sleeve, and pauses in Duolingo’s brand growth were difficult for the owl to manage.

Thankfully, a big break was on the horizon: an evolutionary leap that would catapult the owl into a new phase in 3D. It was this transformation into a live-action, fully feathered, 6-foot-tall mascot that laid the groundwork for the marketing maverick’s current fame.

As proof that career success often comes as the result of being in the right place at the right time, the decision to bring 3D Duo to TikTok began in a regular marketing meeting. Duo the mascot sat in the corner of the boardroom when Duolingo’s newly hired 23-year-old social media coordinator Zaria Parvez noticed him across the room

I just see this huge owl here, and everyone’s acting like it’s dead normal that this huge mascot just hangs around, and I just thought the concept was super funny. And so I gave my boss my phone, I was like, ‘Hey, you want to just film this quick TikTok’ and it just took off.

Zaria Parvez, Global Social Media Manager, Duolingo

The rest, as they say, is history.

In the wake of Duo’s big break, Duolingo’s TikTok account grew rapidly from just 50,000 followers to 10.7 million at the time of writing this article today.

He’s just got that star power, that creative vision, that je ne sais quoi that sets him apart as the Greatest Marketing Mentor of All Time. It’s not just his celebrity status, but also his clear track record of exponential growth that caught our attention and caused us to give him this highly esteemed title.

Paul Stainton, Director of Content & SEO, AgencyAnalytics

Let’s take a closer look at the biggest lessons marketing leaders stand to learn from Duo.

Why Duo Dominates as a Marketing Mentor

Full transparency: Duo’s list of accomplishments is so long that narrowing it down to just a bite-sized representation of his marketing prowess was difficult. This owl is a shrewd businessbird, an unapologetic go-getter, a trend-setting viral phenom, and a not-so-overnight success story that’s worthy of ample admiration.

That said, the primary qualities that led us to name Duo the Greatest Marketing Mentor of All Time are:

1. Duo Knows How To Ship a Concept, Fast

A career in marketing is characterized by a single phrase: Hurry up and wait. It’s not uncommon for clients to demand answers and then promptly ghost the agency and go radio silent when it’s actually time to hit the ground running. Trial by committee slows project execution down to a glacial pace, wasting precious time that could be spent taking bold action and spurring brand growth.

Duo, however, has mastered the art of shipping a concept fast. While his TikToks may look meticulously crafted, the team admits that they most often jump from ideation to posting a video in the span of 30 minutes.

Sound tight? It is. But when it comes to social media marketing, speed is the currency that will buy a brand’s ticket to TikTok fame.

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2. Duo Fearlessly Chases What He Wants

For most agency owners, the dream is to scale the agency, grow annual revenue, and land bigger, more high-profile clients. In many cases, the agency’s growth trajectory is propelled by a handful of strategic partnerships that nudge the business further into the spotlight.

For Duo, partnerships are equally key, and he’s a bird who doesn’t waste time beating around the bush. While Duo’s long-standing campaign to catch the attention of his favorite pop star, Dua Lipa, hasn’t yet resulted in a formal partnership, Duo’s efforts have kept TikTok fans eagerly watching and engaging with the account.

Source: TikTok

Duolingo, Dua Lipa… need we say more?

3. Duo Knows When To Attend Key Networking Events

The AgencyAnalytics Marketing Agency Benchmarks Survey discovered that the majority of agencies land new clients through word-of-mouth and referrals.

graph showing the top ways agencies acquire new clients

It’s clear that in marketing, connections are everything. Networking, therefore, is key to expanding one’s list of contacts, and making face-to-face connections.

When Duolingo launched a video ad campaign to air ahead of theater screenings of the Barbie movie in the US, Duo used it as an opportunity to connect with the film’s stars, Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, by attending the premiere and walking the red carpet.

Yes, Duo knows a thing or two about networking, which is why this marketing guru never misses a big event. 

4. Duo Knows How To Hire the Right Team

To scale an agency, hiring the right talent is an absolute necessity. And when you’re operating in the social media sphere, it’s often a bit of a balancing act: It’s important to hire individuals with ample experience–but there’s definitely something to be said for hiring greener, younger team members who have a finger on the pulse of the current trends and language.

This is where Duo shines. As we mentioned earlier, Duo’s rise to fame came as the direct result of hiring brand new graduate Zaria Parvez, and allowing her the freedom to run with the brand’s creative executions. Duolingo’s trust in Zaria empowered the brand to take risks, and drastically increase visibility by owning their unique “unhinged” content style.

Duolingo mascot costume and Zaria Parvez

Source: Zaria Parvez, Instagram

5. Duo Knows How To Use Gated Content to Enhance Urgency

As the adage goes, you give the “what” away for free and sell the “how”.

Duo understands how to motivate his brand’s users to upgrade their free accounts. The owl straddles this fine line by periodically teasing the bonus features Duolingo accounts will access by becoming a paid subscriber.

Source: Duolingo TikTok

6. Duo Knows How To Bounce Back From Controversy

Duo is a bird who isn’t afraid to take risks… and naturally, sometimes risks come with consequences.

Duolingo meme

Source: Twitter

Following a series of violent user-generated memes aimed at the marketing icon, risking his cancellation on social media as a result of his well-documented temper, Duo didn’t give up. Instead, the brand developed a framework for assessing and taking action on calculated risks:

  • First, they conduct a cost-benefit analysis. Here they explore what will potentially be gained (New followers? More loyal fans?) versus what could be lost (both internally and externally) as a result of the risk.

  • Next, they assess the best way to execute on the risk, to capitalize on the benefits and minimize the potential losses.

  • Finally, they remain at the ready to engage with community following the risk. When Duo’s social media team posts something risky, they always stay online for at least 15 minutes after posting to engage with commenters and discuss what was posted.

7. Duo Knows How To Go Viral

Duo’s most popular videos see sky-high view rates upwards of 55 million plays. You might be asking: What’s the secret to going viral? Well, when it comes to creating killer content, Duolingo has established a formula. 

The key ingredient is a willingness to hop on a trend quickly. The challenge, of course, is striking the right balance between planning upcoming content and pivoting quickly to embrace something new. 

To accomplish this end, the Duolingo team believes in chasing ideas, not trends. They keep a running list of ideas and storylines, built on what the brand’s audience has responded to most positively. They secure approvals on these ideas early, and then allow them the space to marinate and grow. 

From there, Duo’s team remains on the hunt for trends to match with the approved ideas. This expedites the process of content creation, making it possible for them to ship ideas fast, since the core of the concept has already undergone an approval process.

To find the right trends and capitalize on them, Duo takes the following approach:

  • Look out for audio that has more than 30k uses. This means it’s on the rise and about to become something worthwhile.

  • Trust your gut. If something makes you laugh, go with it.

  • Steal like an artist. Watch what similar accounts are experiencing success with, and use this as a source of inspiration.

  • Treat the comments section as your social brief. If followers are asking for a certain type of content, make it.

Duo, We Salute You

Duo, your unflappable determination and soaring success have consistently inspired our team to reach new heights in our marketing executions. Thank you for everything that you do to bring the Duolingo brand to life.

As the Greatest Marketing Mentor of All Time (2024 Edition), we will continue to look to you on the days when we need a little extra motivation to keep up the good work. In short: You’re a hoot!

This article is an April Fool’s publication. AgencyAnalytics has not (yet) conducted a search for the Greatest Marketing Mentor of All Time. But we DO stand by our undying love of Duo, on April 1st and beyond.

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Headshot of Kyra Evans

Written by

Kyra Evans

Kyra Evans is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at AgencyAnalytics. She has over 15 years of experience writing content for SaaS, tech, and finance brands. Her work has been featured by HuffPost and CBC, and she serves an engaged social media readership of over 30,000 community members.

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