Duolingo users know by now that nothing is too over-the-top for Duo, the owl mascot who reminds people to keep up with their daily lessons. And those who haven’t met the aggressive cartoon character? They’ll just be scratching their heads, wondering why a green owl just farted out his own face during the Super Bowl.
The Pittsburgh-based app is running the five-second spot toward the end of the second quarter in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. Creative director James Kuczynski tells Marketing Daily it’s the latest example of how the company lets Duolingo’s social-media community lead marketing.
For those unfamiliar with the brand, learning works like this: Within the app, there’s a widget, with Duolingo illustrators constantly striving for new ways to show Duo’s increasing irritation with users who haven’t yet done their daily lessons.
One such illustration showed Duo being so vexed he farts his own head out of his rump. Users fell in love. They screenshotted it, shared it and couldn’t stop commenting. “We got a lot of traction on social media,” Kuczynski says.
“After seeing our community's enthusiasm for the idea and the way people reacted in such an organic way, we knew we were onto something.”
That’s when the team decided the toot could be their chance at Super Bowl glory. It’s a given that the brand doesn’t have $7 million lying around for a Super Bowl spot. “We've always been a bit subversive when it comes to our marketing,” he says. “We aim to create work that has viral potential, generating word of mouth and media.”
So the idea of scooping up five-second remnants in key markets to create a gassy WTF moment felt natural. “We’re hoping people will look at each other and say, 'What did I just watch?’”
For Duolingo users, long accustomed to the bird’s semi-sinister side, the spot is an inside joke. Plus, they’ll get a simultaneous push notification to get back to their lessons timed to the spot.
“And anyone else might say, 'Let me try and figure this out’ and Google it,” he says. “So it’s a win-win.”
That’s how it worked when Reddit ran its strange five-second spot during the game in 2021, he points out, becoming one of the most-searched Super Bowl ads of that year.Kuczynski says it will have a fully staffed social-media war room during the game, monitoring comments and ready to chime in during the game. “Our main KPI for this is social impressions. We want to know how many people have talked about our brand and how they’re engaging.”
Of course, he won’t mind if “Buttception” makes its way to the game’s most memorable spots.
He says the budget for the spot is “nowhere near even $1 million,” thanks to last-minute negotiation and regional remnants.