A few months ago, I first noticed Duolingo, a language-learning website and app, on TikTok. After reading some hilarious comments the account left on a viral video, I clicked on the account and was amazed to see nothing other than a life-sized green owl, Duolingo’s mascot, all over the feed. There were tons of videos geared toward stereotypes of learning a language - using the green owl as comic relief. It was absolutely genius. I told my friends I wanted to be as clever as whoever runs the Duolingo TikTok. From comments on influencers’ and celebrities' posts, like shipping the forbidden romance between Dua Lipa and the Duolingo Owl, to spot-on relatable videos about social media managers and the language learning platform, the Duolingo owl has set a precedent for a successful brand presence on TikTok
The burning question for me was, “Who is behind this owl?” I searched all over LinkedIn, and just a few weeks later, Zaria Parvez’s identity was revealed.
Parvez graduated from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications with a degree in advertising. She applied the strategic communication and brand communications skills she learned in college to the real world when she was hired to work for Duolingo. It became her job to bring the Owl to life through TikTok. According to a profile by the University of Oregon, Parvez says she capitalized on the “passive-aggressive” energy of Duo the Owl always being in the app’s notifications reminding you to practice, and with this, she brought a new brand voice to Duolingo by taking to Tiktok.
Parvez follows trends incredibly closely and applies them directly to Duo’s niche by making them language-related. It pokes fun at people cheating the lessons through google translate, never remembering to do their daily lesson, and much more. People have become consistent followers of Duo for the personality traits the TikTok platform has given the green owl.
Parvez and the creative team at Duolingo took a different approach to TikTok than sales. “You see businesses on TikTok that are always trying to sell you products, but ,with Duo, it’s this owl doing outrageous, funny things on a business profile,” Parvez told NBC News. They decided the purpose of their TikTok content would not be to sell the Duolingo app. It was just to have fun and make Duo a relatable character on social media. This approach, although it may have seemed risky, is exactly what Duolingo needed to get its name in the game in the social media landscape.
One storyline that formed on TikTok that fans have closely followed is the story of Duo being madly in love with pop singer Dua Lipa. It adds a pop culture spin on Duo, making the owl even more relatable and fun to watch. Parvez takes the content as far as to include photos of Dua Lipa, leaving intense comments about her, tagging her, and even staging a proposal for her in New York City. Based on the 12 million views and 2.5 million likes this video got, it's safe to say the audience enjoyed it.
Parvez does not stop her success at just content creation. Duo leaves “unhinged” or out-of-pocket comments on countless TikTok posts that have received thousands of likes, including other name brands. These comments certainly increase Duolingo’s Tiktok reach, as many accounts comment back, amazed at the fact that Duo the Owl is weighing in on a funny video in pop culture.
Parvez’s work demonstrates many things to aspire to as a social media manager. One is constant research. She is very aware of trending songs, language, and pop culture, enough to always know what to comment on other posts and how to reply on Duolingo’s feed. The balance of niche-related jokes as well as the funny content of a big green owl twerking on office tables makes for a perfect increase in relatability to the platform. Taking this comedic approach has helped people view the Duolingo app in a new light and has in turn encouraged the fun nature of the language-learning platform. Parvez has helped develop familiarity and likability, taking the name of the app and putting its presence in a GenZ setting. It’s safe to say that a green owl has redefined the way that many companies have since approached using their mascots as content material to increase their brand identity.