Duolingo plays on evil mascot meme in April Fool’s campaign

Duo the owl is known to be nefarious, and this year he is kidnapping people for not finishing their language lessons.

Language-teaching app Duolingo on Friday released a global campaign about missing students neglecting their language lessons. 

The main culprit is Duolingo’s notorious mascot, Duo the Owl. 

The campaign, created for April Fool's Day, builds on the “evil” kidnapping meme of 2019, which features a malicious Duo coming after people who haven’t finished their lessons, as if in a horror movie. The trend was revived again last year on TikTok, where Duo showed up in a variety of unexpected and outlandish places, such as twerking on a table.  

Michaela Kron, Duolingo's head of U.S. marketing, explained to Campaign US that the goal of the campaign is to "continue showcasing Duolingo as a fun, quirky and slightly unhinged brand that doesn't take itself too seriously." 

"The secret behind Duolingo's success is that we make learning a new language fun," she said. "So, we try to make sure that sense of fun shows up wherever our brand is."

That inspired this year’s April Fool’s campaign, which mimics late night TV lawyer commercials. The spot features Peter Francis Menchetti, Esq. promising to get revenge on Duo. “Has your family been taken by a corporate mascot?” he asks. “Were you extorted by an enormous green owl?”

"Learning a new language is supposed to be fun and easy," one of Duo's victims says in the spot. "Well, if you've ever been thrown in the trunk of a car and driven across state lines by a huge green owl, you know there's nothing easy or funny about Duolingo." 

The furrowed-brow legal spokesperson allegedly won him $900,000 for his troubles. 

Alongside the spot, Duolingo will use social media to “frame the commercial as something we've just discovered as we are trying to warn our learners and community in defense of Duo,'' Kron said. "Of course, even though we say we don't want people to call or text the hotline, we fully expect them to do the opposite!" 

As one tweet from the brand reads: "Please don't watch this video — and whatever you do, for the love of Duo, DO NOT TEXT OR CALL 781-STOP-OWL." The phone number for Menchetti actually works — in English and Spanish

Kron said that even though the hotline will be discontinued after April Fools, the content will stay alive via Duolingo's social media platforms. 

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