3 Digital Marketing Lessons from “Tiger King”

Eva Maria Schmidt
May 20, 2020

True quarantine confessions: I watched “Tiger King,” the crazy Netflix documentary about the bizarre subculture of big cat breeding, featuring Joe Exotic and a cast of other eccentric characters. And by all measures, I’m not the only one. While Netflix is notoriously unforthcoming about ratings and viewership, the show reportedly garnered 34.3 million unique viewers in the U.S. within its first 10 days, according to Nielsen. And in an informal poll of colleagues, about half admitted to having watched the show, too.

We could spend hours discussing the reasons for the popularity of “Tiger King,” but let’s leave that for some other pundits. We’re in marketing, so now that the dust has settled and viewers are ready to move onto the next shiny thing on Netflix, let’s try to glean something valuable out of the seven or eight hours we spent (lost?) watching this circus freakshow. And with the recent news that Nicolas Cage has signed on to play Joe Exotic in an upcoming “Tiger King” limited series, interest in the phenomenon is not about to wane anytime soon. So here, then, are a few “Tiger King” lessons for digital marketers. Read at your own risk…


No one can predict the makings of a viral smash hit. There are so many ingredients to success and it often comes down to luck and timing. In the case of “Tiger King,” it certainly helped that most of the world was on lockdown when the documentary debuted; with all of us #togetherathome, TV viewing and streaming have soared, as we look for content to keep us preoccupied. Programming executives were certainly not planning for a pandemic. Sometimes things are beyond your control. But as marketers, there are things we can control when it comes to timing.

Delivering the right message at the right time could be exactly what a customer needs to move towards purchase. Consumers today are fully in control of their journeys and expect brands to be there right when the need arises. Brands need to be there in those “micro-moments” or they’ll lose an opportunity – and maybe a customer. 51 percent of smartphone users have purchased from a different company than the one originally intended because that company gave them information right when they needed it. Your marketing team should be asking questions like: What do customers need at this very moment? What are they actively searching for? Understanding this requires a 360-degree customer view, including personal preferences, past purchases, and preferred devices, with data captured in real time across channels, made available across your entire organization via customer data platforms (CDPs). This data is the key to serving personalized experiences and relevant offers created via AI in the right moment. And using location-based targeting will serve your customers the right answers at the right moment.

With the right technologies, marketers can harness customer insights and data in real-time and quickly modify messaging or branding for maximum effectiveness.


There’s truth to that old adage, as many in show business will attest. The programming powers that be in Hollywood and at Netflix didn’t sign off on “Tiger King” without taking note of research and analytics. Documentaries are hot. True crime podcasts, books, and TV shows are all the rage. Reality TV continues to rule the ratings. Then there’s the age-old appeal of animals. Actors will tell you, as per W.C. Fields, “Never work with children or animals.” That’s because they always end up stealing the scene. People love to watch animals.

As marketers, are we using our data to give our customers what they want? Over 75% of consumers are more likely to purchase from a retailer who knows their name and purchase history and who recommends on-taste products (Accenture). Personalization is the magic dust that makes it possible. It’s critical for brands and companies to use the data in their customer data platform (CDP) – both purchase history and real-time situational history – to make sure every interaction at every touchpoint is laced with personal relevance. With artificial intelligence (AI), marketers can predict consumers’ next move in the customer journey and meet them there with relevant messaging and recommendations.

Selligent offers a full suite of functionalities to keep customers engaged on a personal level. From email, website and mobile personalization, to AI-generated customer journeys and automatic retargeting with full cadence control, with the right data foundation, Selligent enables marketers to deliver personal relevance that forms deeper connections.


“Tiger King” was the gift no one knew they wanted. Sure, it combined some of those tried-and-true showbiz staples (true crime, animals, etc.). But a true story about a redneck, gun-toting, country music singing, potentially murderous zookeeper with multiple husbands, hordes of wild animals, and a cult-like following of employees? We were shocked and surprised. No one could have dreamed this up. And of course, we ate it up.

Everyone loves a good surprise. And as digital marketers, we can score big by surprising or delighting our customers. According to 61 percent of consumers, a surprise gift for being a good customer is single-handedly the best way for brands to engage.

Celebrate milestones and reward long-term loyalty, by sending a coupon on the anniversary of signing up as a member, or for reaching a higher loyalty level. Birthdays are also a welcome occasion to reach out, and these messages have a high likelihood to be opened: 77 percent of consumers like when brands demonstrate their appreciation.

And look past rewards points: it’s not all about discounts and monetary incentives. Sure, those things are important. But when you only focus on those things, you risk creating high-churn buyers. Consider how to reward your loyal customers with offers that prioritize long-term, non-monetary benefits over instant gratification (recommendations, invites to special events, first access to new products, etc.).


Memes provide a unique lens into our culture at any given moment. Everybody wants to “go viral” with a meme or a trend – but there’s no magic formula for social media success. It often comes down to timing, as we discussed above. And nothing lit up the internet over the past few months quite like Joe Exotic and the endless variety of “Tiger King” memes. (We shared one of our favorites in the photo for this blog post.) According to HubSpot, “…clever marketers are jumping on the opportunity to use these viral pieces of content to their advantage. (Memes are) funny, clever, and great for social sharing. As a marketer, ‘memejacking’ — or hijacking popular memes to describe a certain situation — can be a great way to create fun, engaging marketing content that shows off your brand’s personality and likability.” Just be careful, because memes are of the moment. No one wants to be that brand that tries too hard to plug into pop culture, but comes off instead as tone deaf, behind the curve, or unoriginal.

And with that, let’s get back to our binge-watching! Hopefully we can extract more lessons along the way, as we sink further into our quarantine couches…