The omnipresent owl: How Duolingo propelled its mascot to the metaverse
"Although our main goal was to build brand love, we could also get a taste of how this move would benefit us in the future. It led to sign-ups that show how impactful the metaverse could be for our sales.”
Duo, the instantly recognizable mascot for Duolingo, is everywhere. From push notifications to TikTok, the green owl is constantly bugging users to use the app in increasingly creative ways. Now, the owl has flown to the Metaverse.
With a brand that lends itself to game-based, community-oriented platforms, the metaverse was the perfect destination for Duolingo’s tenth birthday, and the brand partnered with Media.Monks to bring it to life. Duolingo has achieved ‘meme’ status in online channels. It took advantage of the brand love it receives in digital communities to make a metaverse offering that embraced Web 3.0 fundamentals. The Duolingo Game Hub received 9M+ visits in just a few weeks and players spent 41 million minutes playing language learning games.
James Kuczynski, Creative Director of Brand and Marketing at Duolingo, shares the three pillars Duolingo put in place to ensure its metaverse launch was impactful:
Allow its community to co-create Duolingo’s metaverse offering
Research and listen to how this community already talks about Duolingo
Measure brand love, metaverse visits, and premium-sign ups to gain a holistic view of performance
Being truly community-led
Duolingo had not previously targeted the developer community or the young gaming audience. Its metaverse launch allowed it to expand to this new audience base. As a brand that offers a gamified way to learn a language, there are few better platforms to experiment with than one that allowed Duolingo to explore games in a completely new way.
Web3.0 is built on community engagement. Duolingo did not opt to build its offering and push this on to a new audience. Instead, it brought the gaming community into the creative process. It dared to let the developer community on Roblox take the lead.
“We spoke to the developer community on Roblox. We wanted to create a home for that community to discuss what they were doing. From our social listening, we knew they were Discord users. So, we made a channel for them. We invited developers to a seven-day Game Jam and provided them with a free asset pack. Each of the qualified games was showcased on Duolingo’s Roblox Hub alongside its own game “Spanish or Vanish”.
“It was wonderful watching people have these conversations. The community was built on competition and we saw dozens of games which involved hundreds of developers.”
“Once we’d reviewed the submissions, we had 20 games all created by the audience we were trying to target. That is Web3.0 in action. We shared several of the top games across social channels to give the creators the recognition they deserved.”
Duolingo is a brand known for two things. Firstly, for offering language education to millions of users worldwide. Secondly, for its annoying reminders to encourage users to keep practicing their skills. True to form, it didn’t just offer different games in Roblox. It also built a presence in Decentraland that spoke to the latter.
“To showcase that the Duolingo owl really can pop up anywhere, we expanded into another metaverse platform, Decentraland. It built a two-story statue of Duo including various snarky notifications on the edge of Golf Craft, a golf game on Decentraland.”
“It’s the same approach we’ve used on our socials and app-based notifications. Our users are never safe from the reminders.”
As a mission-oriented company, Duolingo wants to make the best education in the world universally available. Bringing the new audience into the creative process forged immediate connections with this group of potential customers.
How Duolingo measured its metaverse impact
This was Duolingo’s first experiment in the metaverse. Accordingly, it aimed to gather a holistic view of the activation’s performance, from brand love on numerous social channels to metaverse visits and subsequent sign-ups.
Kuczynski explains the significance of measuring each of these elements.
Brand love: “This is more visceral and comes through the content we created around the activation. So, to measure our success we tracked how the content was performing across the channels mentioned already. We measured video engagement and tracked positive sentiment that was going on in the comments. The follower count was also rocketing up throughout the communications and we saw a 30-40% increase in searches for us on YouTube across that month.”
Premium Sign-Ups: “When we launched the experience, we had an offer for the people who were first there. They would get a code for Super Duolingo, which is our premium paid product. We saw hundreds of redemptions of that within the first few hours. Although our main goal was to build brand love, we could also get a taste of how this move would benefit us in the future. It led to sign-ups that show how impactful the metaverse could be for our sales.”
Visits: “For us, it was the first move into this space so we could only compare with other brands who had activated in the space. We wanted to emulate the likes of Spotify and Spotify Island in terms of visits to our locations. Media Monks helped us track the visits on Decentraland and Roblox. We had 9M+ visits in just a few weeks.”
Discord to Decentraland and beyond
Kuczynski was keen to highlight that, as this was the first experiment for Duolingo in the metaverse, brand love was the most important indicator of success. To track brand love, Duolingo repurposed content from the metaverse and the development process on Discord. Kuczynski describes this process.
“Discord was just for the developer community to engage and connect. But we could repurpose the content for other channels to improve the reach of those conversations.”
“We recapped the experience of our developers on Discord with screen recordings. TikTok was surprisingly successful as we’d not posted recordings before, but the social team cut the content into digestible videos that summed up the longer recordings perfectly.
“A lot of Duolingo Roblox accounts popped up with views of their videos reaching hundreds of 1000s of views. They were sharing their own story about Roblox as well as how to access the virtual merch you could get on the metaverse.”
“This organic brand love came from the fact we gave them the space to create and participate. We didn’t just push our message onto them, we let them build it themselves.”
Whilst brand love was the most important metric for Duolingo, visits, and sign-ups offer reassurance for further investment in a long-term metaverse strategy. Such metrics that indicate success throughout the funnel will equip Duolingo to build a metaverse strategy that adds long-term financial value.
The metaverse is still in its infancy. It is ill-defined and for many brands, it is simply too nebulous to consider for the next couple of years. However, for those who see the relevance of their brand on metaverse platforms, research is an utterly vital step. It showed the Duolingo team that the metaverse was a relevant place for its brand to be. It also shed light on what it should create in this new world.
“When we researched our brand on YouTube we found so much brand love for us. We saw videos of people dressed up as Duo and chasing after people. It was priceless user-generated content. This triggered us to get into the space.”
“Some of these videos had millions of views. Watching them back offered remarkable social listening insights. When you’re gathering organic views from a unique audience it’s the perfect creative fodder. We just had to stoke the fire that others had already lit.”
Reviewing the organic conversations and listening to its audience underlined the popularity of Duolingo amongst the audience of young gamers. They loved Duolingo’s social media. Kuczynski explained how this conclusion impacted Duolingo’s plan for its metaverse messaging.
“We saw the need to keep our messaging the same as ever. It’s all built on the premise that ‘fun takes you further.’ It’s a fun way to learn a language, so making games in the metaverse that allowed people to have fun was natural. We didn’t have to bend and stretch our brand guidelines just to keep up. That is authenticity.”
“The social media team understands that brand love. We know we’re a part of meme culture and we lean into it. The brand prides itself on our mascot. The whole concept is that there is no place Duo won’t go to get you to do your lessons. All the memes are along those lines. So, it felt right for us to ‘invade’ the digital space we’d not been to yet with the same reminders.”
“Although it was daunting, this meant we had to lean into the metaverse and open the Game Jam to that same audience. They became brand ambassadors for us!”
All brands must continuously consider what role, if any, they plan to have in the metaverse. As well as unclear, it is also expensive and often met with skepticism. Duolingo’s social listening has equipped it accordingly to ensure long-term success and long-term investment on Decentraland, Roblox, or any other platform it expands to in the future.
Where will the owl go next?
Indeed, Duolingo is contemplating its future in the metaverse. As a brand built on education, it would be remiss not to reflect on the lessons learned from its first experiment. Kuczynski elaborates:
“When we delved into the metrics, we could see the audience who spent the most time within the Roblox experience were aged 18 plus. We expected it to be 13-15, but there was a drop in people of that age. It will guide where we target our messaging looking forward.”
“It was a great first experiment which exceeded our expectations by a tonne in terms of engagement and organic user-generated content. We’ll always be about fun, so it’s a no-brainer. We need to figure out how to track our performance there a little better, though.”
Beyond this, Duolingo has also (as noted above) made a name for sending the Duo owl into all walks of life.
“Whether it’s in the digital world, social media world, or physical world, we always want to get the balance right. We want Duo to be omnipresent so we may shift a bit more of a focus to the physical world.”
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