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It’s a story as old as time: You’re on vacation somewhere exotic (to you) and decide to get a tattoo to memorialize your adventure. The tattoo says something inspiring, something that captures your zest for life. At least that’s what you think the tattoo says—it’s not exactly in a language you understand.

But in a world rich with funny, and embarrassing, tattoo translation stories, at some point you’re also going to have to face the possibility that your foreign language “warrior” tattoo actually says “free egg roll with every purchase.” Even the rich and famous cannot feel safe. Ariana Grande famously received ink that refers to a barbeque grill instead of her intended goal of having the phrase “7 rings” put on her hand.

Grande can likely afford to have her tattoo changed. But for regular consumers, the language app Duolingo decided to offer its help, such that people do not have to face their seemingly permanent mistakes alone, or have to live with their mistake forever.

Duolingo launched its Tattoo Duo-Over campaign in mid-March, just in time for World Tattoo Day on March 21. The campaign got off the ground with a clever, funny, and regretful video about tattoos gone wrong. The company invited tattoo-ees to share photos of their ink, with the hashtag #TattooDuoOver, saying what they believed their tattoos read (or what it was supposed to read), while also tagging @duollingo, @duolingouk, or @duolingofrance.

In addition to providing an actual translation of the tattoo, Duolingo promised to choose a few (un)lucky participants who would be flown to Paris to have their tats fixed at a parlor called Abraxas (where hopefully the tattoo artists are not just in it for further pranks). While the launch of Tattoo Duo-Over garnered lots of press, there’s been no follow-up since the Duolingo UK Twitter account announced on March 31 that the winners would soon be contacted. Even if their shame was public, the redemption is presumably happening behind closed doors.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does the Tattoo Duo-Over campaign help Duolingo’s business?
  2. What are some other creative ways that language apps can increase public awareness and engagement?
  3. Can you think of other types of companies that could turn customers’ stories of prior woe into a business opportunity?

Sources: Jeff Beer, “Toilet Demon or Courage? Duolingo Wants to Fix Your Terrible Foreign-Language Tattoos,” Fast Company, March 17, 2022; Dennis Tymulis and Rokas Laurinavicius, “34 Times People that Could Read in Foreign Languages Had to Just Laugh at these Terrible Tattoo Choices,” Bored Panda (n.d.); Ann-Christine Diaz, “Duolingo Will Fix Your Badly Translated Tattoo,” AdAge, March 17, 2022; “Duolingo: The Tattoo Duo Over by BETC Paris,” Creative Works; Emma Tucker, “Duolingo Wants to Fix Your Dodgy Foreign Language Tattoo,” Creative Review, March 17, 2022