Duolingo appoints And Rising to launch first ad campaign

Out-of-home ads are running across London transport sites from today.

Duolingo: targeting Londoners
Duolingo: targeting Londoners

Duolingo, provider of app-based language-learning resources, has launched its first ad campaign after appointing And Rising and Bountiful Cow to handle creative and media duties.

It is the first major campaign for the eight-year-old brand anywhere in the world and comes after Duolingo appointed Colin Watkins as its first (and so far only) employee in the UK. Formerly a communications chief at Snapchat, Watkins is now director of marketing and communications EMEA and UK country manager for the language-learning platform.

Running for four weeks from today (Monday) across road, rail and Underground sites in London, the ads refer to the long periods of time Londoners spend travelling, with the suggestion that using Duolingo is a good way to make use of that time. 

The campaign, on which Watkins worked closely with Duolingo’s US-based chief marketing officer Cammie Dunaway, follows a brand identity project carried out by design agency Johnson Banks. 

Speaking to Campaign, Watkins said Duolingo had amassed 12 million users in the UK (out of a global total of 300 million) without any marketing spend, but had the opportunity to become even bigger. 

Duolingo chose to focus on the capital for a number of reasons, Watkins said; there are both large numbers of speakers of other languages who want to improve their English and growing numbers of people who want to learn another language for reasons such as business or a relationship. "We looked at the data and realised London has a diverse market," he said. "There’s a high propensity for language learning."

He added that "we were excited by some of the options of the media available", explaining that the transport context was key to the creative message.

"It’s based around time," Watkins said. "One of the things we’ve found is that people are becoming more disillusioned with how they spend their time. 

"We want to make people consider doing something fun and productive with those moments when they were waiting on a Tube platform, for a train or a bus, instead of just endlessly scrolling or using face filters to pass the time."

The marketing push was initially scheduled to start slightly later, but was brought forward to coincide with Duocon, the brand’s conference in London, at which visitors can practise their languages, meet experts and see presentations from the likes of David Peterson, who created the fictional languages High Valyrian and Dothraki for Game of Thrones

High Valyrian is one of two fictional languages available for English speakers to learn on the app, along with Klingon from Star Trek.

Watkins said he had been impressed with And Rising’s understanding of the brand and Bountiful Cow’s inventiveness in suggesting media buys, such as taxi wraps and smart benches.

"When I came in, I’d been very used to working with in-house teams or agency teams with a long-standing relationship," he said. "It was a priority for me to find a creative agency that really understood us and we wanted a media agency that would really buy into who we are and what we wanted to achieve."

Watkins added that he was keen to explore opportunities for "fun, quirky and PR-able activations" and any creative and innovative ways to promote the brand.