The Only Good Brand on TikTok: Duolingo Speaks the Language

Dylan M. Austin
7 min readOct 25, 2021
Various screenshots of Duolingo content on a graphic background — two are humorous exchanges with users who admit they haven’t studied, and one is a social media manager sharing how their mascot, “Duo” has been “unhinged” and concerned her executives. These are referred to in detail in the article below.

Long ago, Taco Bell and Wendy’s were basically the only sassy personality brands speaking in the first person on social media. From disingenuous “pick me” brands to those who are actually very funny, every brand from Kum & Go to Velveeta swoop in on trends and viral threads for engagement in any form, even if it has absolutely nothing to do with their brand or product.

Twitter has sort of been this dark corner where the rogue brand accounts could act up and push boundaries, like attempts at relatability by implying they’re depressed to Chester Cheetah dropping a diss track on Doritos for some reason. Meanwhile, these same companies’ Instagram and Facebook counterparts maintain a mostly polished aesthetic and stay on topic.

The brands that do this well are often the product of a single social media manager whose individual personality, cultural immersion, and quick wit represent entire corporations. Look to Tushy and MTV, for instance, whose voices demonstrate that the gays are superior at crafting brand voices, a necessary discussion for another time.

Since, TikTok has become a place marketers haven’t ruined (yet), where algorithms aren’t kind to self-promotion, and the content that performs best includes “bad” quality front-facing camera lipsync trends. Users are quick to spot branded content that is “too good” and, if they’re not careful, these brands can set themselves up to be the butt of a joke or simply get booed out of comment sections.

Some have done pretty well like the Washington Post, a surprising early star in this realm. Naturally, e.l.f. cosmetics turned the makeup community into an earned-media goldmine with its #EyesLipsFace trend, which featured a song made up entirely for TikTok that became so popular, they had to go back and make it a full-length song.

Around this exact time two years ago and fresh off the #EyesLipsFace trend, Vox claimed that brands finally understood TikTok. This may have been true to some degree, but the user-base of…

Dylan M. Austin

Copy and content writer in Seattle. Sometimes satirical, sometimes sincere. Run-on mixed metaphor. Gay, autistic dog dad with ADHD (and too many plants).