Courtesy of TikTok

November 28, 2021

TikTok Marketing: a Fad or a Revolution?

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Hi! It’s Duo! 

I still remember the anxiety of keeping alive my streak. A “streak is the number of days in a row you have completed a lesson. Once you complete a lesson in the app or via web, your streak will increase by 1 day. You will receive your daily reward when you meet your Daily XP Goal.” 

Although Duolingo is no longer as prominent as it was in our middle school years, the popular language app found different ways to remain relevant. 

On Dec. 2, 2018, a Tumblr account named sceenshotsdespair posted the first of many infamous Duolingo memes. It was a screenshot of a Duolingo push notification that read, “Oops, that’s not correct. Run for your life.” Within four months, the post received over 114,000 notes. This led to a cultural phenomenon of ‘Duo the Evil Owl.’

On March 26, 2019, Duolingo posted the image of Duo the Owl entering a dark room with the text “Coming Soon” on their Twitter. To date, this post has received 2,400 retweets, 25,000 likes and 1,300 comments. 

Through a study done by Ryplio (“The Only Through-the-Line Influencer Marketing Lead Seeding Platform”), the result of Duolingo’s social media popularity highly benefited the company. Shown below are side-by-side changes from Duolingo’s media statistics prior and after the circulation of their memes and YouTube videos. 

Duolingo’s social media results jumped from 27 to 10,862, while shares went from nonexistent to 6230. 



Recently, Duolingo has hopped onto Tik Tok. NBC’s “How Duo the big green owl became a TikTok star” described Duolingo’s new advancement: “From twerking atop a conference table to a remix of Adele’s “Easy on Me” with rapper CupcakKe or calling singer Dua Lipa “mommy,” the stoic, yet adorable green owl has become fluent in a language some brands have failed to speak: social media.” 

The use of TikTok as a marketing outlet for major companies (NBA, Fenty Beauty, Dunkin’, Chipotle, Gymshark etc) has been increasing. However, is “TikTok Marketing” a short-term technique or a long-term cultural influence? 

The overall message Zaria Parvez, the social media manager behind Duolingo’s TikTok account, wants to convey is that at the end of the day, learning a new language is supposed to be fun.

To explore whether or not TikTok marketing is considered a short-term strategy or a more meaningful, long-term cultural change, let’s begin with defining each. In the world of marketing, a short-term strategy is “a plan that can last for up to a year.” It is essentially a ‘calendar of events’; in this case, the marketing team at Duolingo plans a different TikTok that highlights a specific problem/topic for different days. “Campaigns that are part of this strategy produce a temporary boost in sales and traffic to a business. This is because the focus of the strategy is to bring in new customers; this is a crucial part of business, especially for start-up brands or rebranded designs.” 

Long-term cultural changes can be defined as the “belief that culture can be passed from one person to another mean[ing] that cultures, although bounded, can change.” The top mechanisms of social and cultural change include discovery and invention. We see a cultural shift when people discover a new understanding of a familiar subject/topic. The discovery is not temporary, creating a permanent shift in operations or beliefs. Going back to TikTok marketing, data has found that TikTok is not “necessarily about belonging to an age demographic, but rather a mindset […].” TikTok users choose to join in on the social culture and trends portrayed by the creators. The combination of TikTok’s algorithm and the unknown depths of its creators’ future content creates a force that can elicit discovery and invention among a certain cultural phenomenon. However, personally, I believe that these discoveries or inventions are all already present in our society; TikTok is simply a platform that gives these topics each a time to surface and shine. 

Therefore, TikTok, as powerful and influential as it is, does not hold the power to create cultural change. In a world where ideas constantly develop and evolve, TikTok remains a catalyst along the journeys of each idea and phenomenon. 

Haley Qin is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].