Duolingo makes language learning fun in chirpy animated campaign by W+K and Le Cube

The app’s first global campaign sees Duo, its owl mascot, star in a jazzy musical number, and special ads targeting newly-elected US politicians in Washington DC.

Date
15 February 2021
Reading Time
3 minute read

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Duolingo is the world’s leading language-learning app, due in no small part to its user-friendly and fun visual design. At the centre of its branding is Duo the owl, its ever-encouraging mascot and now the star of the company’s first global ad campaign, which sees the app’s vibrantly illustrated world come to life in a musical created by animation studio Le Cube for W+K Amsterdam. To the tune of a jazzy number, the film directed by Gabriel H Fermanelli gives examples of the many obstacles stopping people from learning a language and says the solution is to “make it fun”.

While the ad sits on the brink of kitsch, Le Cube’s lovable character designs and subtle humour tip the scales the right way, as well as the wryly camp soundtrack. The renowned animation studio has worked with everyone from Cartoon Network to Spotify, Nike and MTV. Supporting visuals reveal more of its tongue-in-cheek humour, stating “learning a language is f***ing hard. That’s why we made it f***ing fun,” replacing the asterisks with cutesy emojis.

Another more poignant aspect to the campaign takes a political stance, drawing attention to the lack of Spanish speakers in US government. While developing the campaign during the US election, the W+K Amsterdam team found out 41 million Americans speak Spanish at home, and noted that a few politicians spoke a few words of the language on the campaign trail – yet predicted “these valiant attempts at language learning would fall by the wayside once the votes were cast, as they have in the past”.

So a special part of the Duolingo campaign has been targeted at people working in US government, with a message of encouragement being sent exclusively to app subscribers in the Senate and House office buildings, saying “¡Hola Elected Officials! Spanish is not just for the campaign trail. So keep learning.” The message is also brandished on a Washington DC bus driving past government offices along its route, and was printed on a wraparound on the Washington Post Capitol Hill edition on 11 February.

“During the recent US election races we witnessed politicians attempting (with moderate success) to speak Spanish in order to garner the support of Spanish-speaking voters,” explains Ane Santiago Quintas, W+K Amsterdam copywriter. “We wanted to acknowledge this effort but also encourage them to keep learning beyond the election. So in traditional Duo fashion we decided to send them a passive-aggressive yet encouraging push notification to make our point.”

It’s a cause close to Duolingo’s heart, with the CEO and co-founder Luis Von Ahn being an immigrant to the US from a Spanish-speaking country. The company is also partnering with grassroots political organisation the Voto Latino Foundation on initiatives to encourage politicians representing Spanish-speaking Americans to stay accountable and on top of their language learning as one way of creating stronger bonds with those they serve.

The Make It Fun campaign is rolling out in Brazil, Mexico, the UK and US during early 2021, created in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

GalleryW+K Amsterdam: Make It Fun campaign for Duolingo

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Animation by Le Cube

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Animation by Le Cube

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Animation by Le Cube

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Animation by Le Cube

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Photo by Nate Palmer

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Photo by Nate Palmer

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W+K Amsterdam: Make It Fun campaign for Duolingo. Animation by Le Cube.

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About the Author

Jenny Brewer

Jenny joined the editorial team as It’s Nice That’s first news editor in April 2016. Having studied 3D Design, she has spent over a decade working in design journalism. Contact her with news stories relating to the creative industries on jb@itsnicethat.com.

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