duolingo memes: In this photo illustration the Duolingo logo is displayed on a smartphone.

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How the Duolingo owl became a TikTok star

The sassy mascot has become a worldwide meme, and found success on TikTok.

 

Tricia Crimmins

IRL

Posted on Nov 29, 2023   Updated on Dec 13, 2023, 3:57 pm CST

Even if you don’t use Duolingo, a language skills app, you’re probably familiar with the Duolingo owl. You know, that bright green cartoon owl with wide eyes? 

Or maybe you’re familiar with the owl in its tangible form: A person wearing a mascot costume of the owl, and getting into antics on the brand’s TikTok page.

No matter what, it’s safe to say that many people know Duolingo’s owl better than they know the company’s program, due to the popularity of Duolingo owl memes.

Duolingo Memes: The original Duolingo owl meme

In addition to getting you to download their apps, app developers want users to stay engaged with their product. So, they use notifications to remind you that it’s there. 

Duolingo’s notifications remind users to continue their learning streak, or just to head back to the app and take a quick language lesson. But sometimes Duolingo’s notifications can get a little sarcastic. 

“Your Japanese lessons won’t take themselves,” a sample notification reads. 

And if users don’t engage with the app after it’s reminded them several times, the notifications’ tone becomes almost… self aware.

“These reminders don’t seem to be working,” another notification reads. “We’ll stop sending them for now.”

In fact, passive aggressiveness is exactly what Duolingo is going for. In a piece for Mashable in 2017, Duolingo CEO Henry P. Twolingos described the app’s notifications as “a reasonable balance between nice and mean.” 

These passive aggressive notifications are what spawned the meme: People took the owl’s shady tone and made it threatening, implying that if you don’t do your daily Duolingo lesson, something bad may happen.

Duolingo owl memes
BoredPanda

“Looks like you forgot your Spanish lessons again,” one meme reads. “You know what happens now!” The meme also shows a notification from a home security system, which alerts the users that there is an intruder in their house.

“Looks like you missed your Italian lesson again,” another says. “Good luck talking your way out of this one!” The meme also shows a notification for a text from “Dad” saying that the Mafia has showed up to his house.

Duolingo on TikTok

After the meme-ification of their notifications, Duolingo created a TikTok presence that centers around the app’s owl logo. With over 8 million followers—an impressive audience for any TikTok user but especially for a brand—Duolingo posts videos corresponding to TikTok trends of the moment, applied to their iconic mascot. The owl dresses up in costumes, hangs out with other brands’ mascots and characters, and even flirts with the company’s human employees.

@duolingo Duolingo Music Unlocked😈🎹 #duolingomusic #duolingo ♬ Originalton – Blasta

The Duolingo owl has become a worldwide meme, with variations including anime-themed costumes in Japan, and an appearance by the Duolingo owl outside Berlin’s famous club Berghain.

The Duolingo owl often pops up in others’ TikToks, as well. One TikToker jokes that they would be cooking the Duolingo owl for Thanksgiving, and another TikTok caught someone who had been dressed up in the official owl suit taking it off in public. 

Duo + Dua 

A rundown of the Duolingo owl wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the owl’s proposal to pop star Dua Lipa, following jokes that the two would make a perfect couple because of the similarity of their names. 

In March 2022, the Duolingo owl starred in a TikTok shot outside New York City’s Madison Square Garden, where it proposed to Dua Lipa via a series of signs, Love Actually style. 

@duolingo @dualipaofficial I’m literally still standing outside of MSG waiting #dulapeep #dualipa #dualingo🦦 #msg #newyorkcheck #futurenostalgiatour ♬ baby one more time x levitating – Adam Wright

“Hey Dua! It me, your boi Duo,” one of the cards reads. “Dua… will you marry me?”

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*First Published: Nov 29, 2023, 4:15 pm CST