There were over 13 million Yiddish speakers before the Holocaust, but only 600,000 in 2021. Duolingo wanted to get people to sign up for its newest course and start learning Yiddish again. The goal was to acquire 75,000 sign-ups without spending a significant amount on traditional paid media.
How do you get people to start learning an endangered language like Yiddish? Bagels. Because every time you order a bagel, you speak a bit of Yiddish. Duolingo turned this dying language into a new currency by partnering with iconic delis across the country and letting people pay for a free bagel and schmear with a Yiddish phrase.
For the activation, we designed special signage featuring our mischievous owl mascot and directions on how to say the Yiddish phrase at each deli location. We also created custom wax paper, napkins, and bags with the campaign line “Bagel is Yiddish for Bagel.” All the assets were specifically produced to inspire people to take photos and share their experience online.
Next, we used social media to promote the campaign and spark a global conversation. In the days leading up to the activation, our deli partners shared appetizing bagel content with their existing fans and hinted at the special offer. On launch day, Duolingo drove new audiences to visit the deli nearest them through location-targeted organic posts. Then, we kept the campaign going with a social content series featuring more Yiddish words one might already know like "glitch" or "klutz."
The campaign earned 1.4 billion impressions, national and global TV coverage, a front page article in the Wall Street Journal print edition, and #yiddish became a trending topic on Twitter.
All the attention resulted in over 350,000 new sign-ups with $0 spent on paid media. Already in the United States, there are more Yiddish learners on Duolingo than there are native speakers. So far, we’ve increased the total number of potential Yiddish speakers worldwide by over 58%.