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Extreme, cringey or genius? How far can marketing go?

Have you done your cringey lesson today?

Paula Ferreira

Paula Ferreira

— Designer and Illustrator

Category: Marketing & Communication

Reading time 5 Minutes

Publish date: 10.01.2024

Extreme, cringey or genius? How far can marketing go?

Today, I’m here to teach you. Yes, that’s right, you (!), how to boost your business with a simple and easy strategy! Let’s face it: everyone’s tired of it, right?

We’re tired of marketing the way it’s been done.

Take a moment to think about how many adds are just skipped in your day because there’s nothing interesting about them and only serve to provide executives with numbers in a report.

In addition to the marketing hype, we can also consider that most of the things we consume are not useful content, but memes, random information and idle dances.

Tired of this, I decided to write something about it. But this text isn’t a manual on marketing or content… It’s just an analysis of these points by a GenZ!

That’s why, in the latest months, I’ve found myself captivated by a new “marketing” format that some companies have been using that instantly makes me think of the old saying: “any publicity is good publicity”.

And why does causing disgust or making your brand the butt of joke work better than a well-crafted 12-step course strategy that you bought last year and never watched a single lesson of?

The answer is simple: because it makes you think about the brand for longer and share it… And the share button is worth gold.

I’ll give you the example of one of my favourite brands that I discovered in the cringiest way possible:

Print with puns about duolingo

Duolingo just kidnapped your family because you didn’t do your French homework today"

If you didn’t laugh, that’s fine (maybe the joke isn’t for you), but I have to confess that it gave me a good laugh.

For those who don’t know it yet, Duolingo is a language app that uses a methodology of small lessons per day (pills) so that you can learn a new language little by little, fitting it into your busy life routine, which is a common strategy among language apps and mobile games. Almost everyone has, or has seen, that app that says: “Hi, do you want to take a look at what so-and-so has posted? Have you done your five-minute English lesson today?”.

It was inspired by the widespread hate that these excessive notifications created that Duolingo embraced the idea of being completely unbearable. And what that a night to day change? No. As you can see, in mid-2020, their Instagram posts were still as harmless and normal as any generic brand:

Various prints from the duolingo app

By embracing the reputation of the “inconvenient owl who wants to impose her knowledge all the time” something changed completely. It was by sharing one or two jokes on the late Twitter about itself that the brand began to engage and realize that the public began to download the app just to see if “the notifications were really that excessive”. This made Duolingo one of the top most used apps in education / language genre.

Various prints from the duolingo app

They didn't even spare Larry (RIP).

No limits here

Becoming cringey, sharing absurd jokes about itself and constant jokes on TikTok with the owl chasing people all the time, led to the brand rising from company to influencer and getting invited to movie premieres and events not as a sponsor, but as a celebrity.

duolingo advert during the big launch of the Barbie film

And is there a limit to its humour? Not really. Because causing controversy also gets your name out there. Mainly for causing one of the most cursed TikTok collabs possible, which that stirred so much attention that the app simply “broke” with the public reacting to the pregnancy between Duolingo and Scrubby Daddy (brand of cleaning sponges).

tiktok duolingo video cover

Click here if you’re ready…

The reason for this? Making noise.

Could they have chosen a standard strategy of making a video introducing the colab with a generic dance? Yes. But they went further, to the point where several brands reacted and started commenting trying to join the gigantic wave that the collab caused (not just on the internet… the owl sponges sold out in minutes on the shelves).

Prints of other companies amazed by duoling’s aggressive way of advertising

I can’t ‘unsee’ it. - And we’re not going to apologise for that.

Some extremes are worth it.

I’m not saying that you have to go to extremes, or that this kind of humour is for you. But some extremes are worth it, if you know how to deal with people’s reactions (which can be negative) with good humour. In this marketing strategy, the important thing is the noise it creates.

And you know the most interesting thing about all of this? The authenticity of the content! Humor makes us human, it makes marketing less rigid and breaks away from the standard “take a course to boost your company on social media.”

Any machine can produce a professional text about your company, but only a human could think of something that makes them feel awkward, causes embarrassment and humour. And even if all this was created by machines, look at the figures, look at the results.

Thinking outside the box is worth it sometimes!

Paula Ferreira

Paula Ferreira

— Designer and Illustrator

Let's play together?