With its mascot Duo gaining a reputation as a bit of a stalker on social media, language-learning app Duolingo decided to lean into the reputation, using drones, projectors, and geolocations to allow Duo to target former students who had lapsed in their learning with an unignorable push notification, projected onto buildings near their homes.
Duolingo is the world's largest free language learning app, with over 500 million users worldwide and 30 million in Brazil alone. As the second largest market for the application's users, the Brazilian market still had a huge potential for growth, both in new users and in users who have stopped using the platform for a while. For this reason, the main goal of Duolingo's "The Unignorable Notification" campaign was to identify those users who for some reason had stopped using the platform — and were ignoring the app's mobile notifications — and bring them back. The brand also wanted to attract new users in this potential market by generating buzz around its app.
Everyone is a potential Duolingo user. Because the app has more than 40 language options to learn — including some unusual ones, such as Klingon from Star Trek and High Valyrian from Game of Thrones — it appeals to all social classes, ages, and cultural styles.
During pandemic lockdowns, Duolingo noticed that social isolation had people everywhere seeking remote learning opportunities. Even within the brand's own app, there was a 30 percent increase in the number of returning users during lockdowns, with an additional 25 percent increase in new users.
At the same time, using social listening, the brand was discovering that its mascot, an owl named Duo, was beginning to earn a bit of a reputation on social media platforms: fans saw him as a playful stalker, constantly sending them reminders to continue their education. Despite Duo's pushy but endearing demeanor, many fans still ignored his persistent notifications.
Using these two insights, Duolingo set out to capitalize by creating the world's first unignorable push notification, targeted to former students who had lapsed and were continuing to ignore Duo's more traditional push notifications.
Duolingo started developing an elaborate plot, which involved recruiting via social media the families and friends of former students who had stopped their learning, using geolocation technology identify where these students were located, and developing an unprecedented way to deliver the world's largest push notification directly to their homes while they social distanced.
Duolingo designed a drone featuring a high-resolution projector, capable of projecting images with a diameter of up to 48 feet. Using the neighboring buildings of lapsed students in Sāo Paulo, Brazil, the Duolingo drone would "prank" these students by projecting giant personalized notifications to remind them to resume their studying. The drone was also equipped with several cameras to capture the reactions of the students, their families or friends, and potential new users passing on the street. Duolingo also partnered with influencers to maximize the buzz created on social media.
The social isolation caused by the pandemic has limited the possibilities for brands to connect with users offline. On top of that, staying motivated and committed to learning a new language can be very challenging, even in the best of times. Additionally, many people were suffering from digital fatigue brought on by the constant bombardment of push notifications, causing most of these notifications to be ignored.
With the creation of its innovative digital-drone-out-of-home (DOOH), Duolingo created a new media channel, a "moving billboard," and brought a new kind of push notification to the windows of its students. The effort was made possible through robust data analysis, which was used to pinpoint:
There were more than 500 referrals from friends and family and eight students in total were pranked.
Overall Campaign Execution:
The construction of the drone with a high-resolution projector that directed custom messages at specific learners allowed Duolingo to bring the Duo Owl to the real world, taking its famous features on the internet and social networks to real life for users. By embracing the meme that had become Duo the Owl's reputation, Duolingo created buzz and had its video on the campaign go viral.
Duolingo is a mobile app. For this reason, its entire communication strategy, from recruitment through post-action, was designed mobile-first, leveraging platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok. Even the drone itself was flown by mobile control. On social, "the unignorable notification" went viral, with users spontaneously creating memes referring to pop culture icons and ephemera like Spiderman, a notification skin on the renowned mobile game Minecraft, and a series of spontaneous videos on the mobile platform of the moment: TikTok.