Owl Trope in Media

What are some symbols that pop up when we think of knowledge and school? Perhaps the apple, a book, or a graduation cap. One big symbol that may come to mind is the owl. The owl trope is often used in media and marketing as a symbol of knowledge, learning, and prosperity. The symbolism between the owl and wisdom can be traced back to Ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, the owl was a symbol for Athena, who is the goddess of wisdom and strategy. According to the myth, an owl sat on Athena’s blind side, so that she could see the whole truth. Furthermore, the owl was a symbol of a higher wisdom, and it was also a guardian of the Acropolis

Example 1: Duolingo

Duolingo is a language learning app launched in 2012 by co-founders Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker. The app has over 40 million users worldwide, making it the most popular language-learning app. The app offers game-like lessons to help you learn more than 35 different languages. The mascot of the app is a green owl. As we know, the owl is a symbol of knowledge and learning. Having the owl as the mascot of this app shows that this app is related to learning.

Example 2: Owl in Winnie the Pooh

Owl in the animation Winnie the Pooh is an anthropomorphic owl whose character is based off of the stereotype of the “wise old owl”. Owl first appeared in Disney’s animated short, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree, which was released in the year 1966. Owl itself was created by the imagination of Alan Alexander Milne, and was made into animation by Walt Disney Productions. In the animation, Owl is considered to be the smartest resident of the Hundred Acre Wood, which is a fictional land inhabited by Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends. Although Owl’s knowledge can sometimes be questionable, most of the characters in the animation tend to go to Owl for advice. Owl often acts as Christopher’s eyes and ears in the Hundred Acre Woods. Furthermore, his maturity and ability to fly makes him a crucial part of solving problems throughout the forest, though sometimes his ability to solve problems is stunted by the fact that he cannot read.

Example 3: Tootsie Pop’s Mr. Owl

Mr. Owl was first introduced to the media in 1968 in a new commercial campaign for Tootsie Pop. In the commercial, a young boy can be seen asking Mr. Turtle “How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie center of a tootsie pop?”, in which Mr. Turtle replies “I have never made it to the center without biting, ask Mr. Owl.” Then, the young boy goes to Mr. Owl, asking the same question he asked Mr. Turtle before. This time, Mr. Owl answers the boy by licking the tootsie pop three times before biting it off completely. The commercial ends with the narrator saying “How many licks does it take to get to the center of the tootsie pop? The world may never know.”

When Mr. Turtle directs the boy to Mr. Owl, the viewers get a sense that perhaps Mr. Owl is more knowledgeable and hence will be able to answer the boy’s question. However, we come to find that Mr. Owl too does not know the answer. This example, in contrast to the two other examples, shows that the owl may seem like it is knowledgeable at first but it is in fact just like the rest of us.




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Gaussoin, Bret. “Symbolic Meaning of Owls Around the World.” Pellets, Inc., https://www.pelletsinc.com/blogs/news/symbolic-meaning-of-owls. Accessed 8 Feb. 2022.
O’Conor, Lottie. “Duolingo Creator: ‘I Wanted to Create a Way to Learn Languages for Free’ | Education | The Guardian.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 27 Aug. 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/27/luis-von-ahn-ceo-duolingo-interview.