Language-learning app Duolingo has recently shifted its marketing strategy from traditional TV ads to social media platforms like TikTok. This change is driven by the company’s recognition of the power of memes and organic marketing to generate growth and engagement. By embracing a more unhinged and meme-centric approach, Duolingo has found success in reaching and resonating with its target audience.

Transition from traditional marketing:

When Emmanuel Orssaud joined Duolingo as the global head of marketing in 2020, the company primarily relied on traditional marketing methods to build brand awareness. However, as the majority of its growth came from word-of-mouth and free, ad-supported users, the return on investment for larger-budget campaigns was not favorable. This realization prompted Duolingo to explore alternative marketing channels.

Embracing social media and memes:

Duolingo recognized the potential of social media platforms like TikTok, especially during the pandemic when online engagement soared. By leveraging the creative and viral nature of these platforms, Duolingo began producing content that resonated with users. For instance, posts featuring the Duolingo owl’s romantic relationships with other brand mascots or jokes about the company’s legal team became popular.

The importance of speed and organic content:

The success of Duolingo’s social media campaign lies in its ability to react quickly to trending jokes and audio. Around 80% of the content is left to the team’s discretion, allowing for spontaneity and timely responses. By minimizing layers of oversight, Duolingo ensures its content remains fresh and engaging. The remaining 20% consists of more planned and campaign-driven content, which receives slight adjustments or guidance.

Efficient marketing and user growth:

Duolingo’s strategic shift has yielded positive results. The company now boasts 6.7 million followers on TikTok and has seen success on other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. During the first quarter of the year, Duolingo’s co-founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn, attributed the company’s user growth to more efficient marketing strategies and improvements in the product itself.


The most unhinged reality TV show yet, hosted by yours truly 😘 Love Language, a new @Duolingo and @peacock original series where sexy singles share a house in paradise in hopes of finding true love. The catch? None of them speak the same language. #duolingo #peacockoriginal #languagelearning #dulapeep #realitytv

♬ original sound – Duolingo

Building an audience through memes:

Duolingo’s mascot has become a popular meme, allowing the company to build an audience organically. The mascot’s meme status has been instrumental in attracting attention and fostering organic marketing. Developing and maintaining an audience requires time, consistency, and investment, all of which Duolingo has actively pursued.

Focus on product functionality:

Unlike certain consumer products that rely heavily on brand advertising, language-learning apps like Duolingo prioritize functionality. Instead of investing in extensive marketing campaigns, the app aims to provide a product that is highly effective and keeps users engaged. By offering features like memorable sentences for language practice and motivating streaks, Duolingo ensures users return to the app regularly.

Duolingo’s shift from TV ads to memes and social media marketing has proven to be a successful strategy for engaging its target audience and driving user growth. By embracing the spontaneity and creativity of platforms like TikTok, the company has found a cost-effective and efficient way to reach language learners. Furthermore, the company’s emphasis on product functionality and user experience has contributed to its overall success. As the marketing landscape evolves, Duolingo’s approach serves as a testament to the power of memes and organic marketing in building an engaged audience.

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