Inside Duolingo's campaign to help Scottish football fans learn Ukrainian
The Romans for Duolingo won at The Drum Awards for PR 2022 for Best Event, Stunt or Promotional Activation/Most Effective Use of Earned Media. Here, we find how Duolingo put football rivalries aside with its 'Translated into Tartan' campaign.
Scotland v Ukraine World Cup qualifier
All eyes were on Ukraine’s first international football match since the Russian invasion. The game against Scotland needed to unite fans and not divide them so Duolingo tasked Scottish fans with learning Ukraine’s national anthem to sing along in solidarity.
To convince the British public to take up a new language Duolingo needed to show up where cultures collide, and languages meet. And where better for Brits than to show up at football?
Ukraine was due to travel to Scotland for its first football match since Russia’s invasion. The world’s media had turned their attention to the game as a win for Scotland would have edged them closer to World Cup contention, but a defeat of Ukraine would have looked like poor sportsmanship.
Football is one of the world’s more partisan sports so what if Duolingo could convince Ukrainian and Scottish fans to come together? In international football the one time fans get to experience the other team’s language is during the national anthems… that is when the idea hit.
Hear what the winners had to say about their award-winning work above.
The Romans set about trying to convince Scots to learn and sing the Ukrainian national anthem before the match in an act of sporting solidarity. Never in football’s history had opposing fans sung another nation's anthem. There were a couple of challenges, firstly Ukrainian is an incredibly hard language to speak, let alone sing, secondly there was a brand risk for Duolingo if they got this wrong.
Duolingo’s academics were tasked with producing a phonetic translation of the Ukrainian anthem which the brand then published in full and distributed in national Scottish newspapers. Copies were also handed out at the stadium before the match.
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In the run-up to the game, The Romans recruited Scottish players and celebrities to urge fans to participate and then took the idea to the Scottish press.
Firstly, it worked in that tens of thousands of Scots were able to sing the words: “Shche ne vmerla Ukrainy i slava, ivolia” along with the Ukrainian players and supporters. The campaign dominated the national press both on TV, in newspapers and radio. The initiative also dominated the conversation during the match by commentators and pundits.
Ukraine ended up beating Scotland 3-1 and ended Scotland’s World Cup hopes but the anthem united the two sides with reports of the fans partying in Glasgow together after the match.