Tiger King Case Study: The Theory of Planned Behavior


I finally gave in and watched Tiger King. I originally had no intention or interest in having my brain cells die. But I’m not alone. COVID-19 helped bring the otherwise strange and insignificant show to an unbelievably popular series, drawing in 34 million views within the first two weeks of streaming on Netflix.

So what made me, and so many other people who would otherwise have low intentions of watching the show, actually go through and binge watch 8 episodes of brain-rotting non-sense. It can all be explained by the Theory of Planned Behavior, which gauges the likelihood of someone engaging in behavior based on strengthening intentions through specific influences. For example, if I hate to exercise, what influences take place to increase my intentions to finally go for a run?

You’re probably asking ‘what is the Theory of Planned behavior’ and ‘why is it important to understand?’ The short answer is because intention drives behavior. Moreover, as marketers, we need to understand the influences and thought process that surrounds our customers, to increase intention and behavior.

I could use almost any scenario to break down how the theory of planned behavior works, but it just wouldn’t have the same flair as Joe Exotic. Plus, it was a phenomenon that truly allows this theory to shine.

Tiger King Case Study

According to the theory of planned behavior, there are three influences that are essential to the increasing intention.

1.     Behavioral attitudes

The influence of attitude is in reference to how the individual thinks and feels about the behavior.

First, is if we believe the behavior is enjoyable or unenjoyable (aka, affective attitude).

Second, is whether we deem the behavior is beneficial or harmful (aka, instrumental attitude).

What went through my head (and probably everyone else’s head) is that TK would be an enjoyable departure from the depressing news we were being bombarded with about COVID-19. Part two to that is that there really wouldn’t be any harmful, there are scarier things out there in the world right now and would boost mental health (or at least we thought – Carol and Joe are pretty frightening).

2.     Subjective norms

This is where I believe the intention to watch Tiger King made intention skyrocket. Subjective norms is the support given or not given by others for the behavior. It’s our drive to really do what others want us to do and what others are doing.

The two factors to subject norms, which are a.) injunctive norms, and whether others are encouraging the behavior; and b.) descriptive norms, which take into account whether our inner social circle, like friends and family, are also engaging in the behavior.

In Tiger King’s favor, it was a yes and yes, everyone around me encouraging me to watch it, supporting me through it, and engaging in the show themselves. I mean John Legend was on social media asking if we’ve all watched it? So as much as I may have been initially opposed to the show, how could I miss out on what everyone around me wanted me to do and were doing themselves?

3.     Perceived behavioral control

The final piece to the puzzle is perceived behavioral control and one’s ability to feel capable in performing or taking part in the behavior.

At the core, are we able to overcome challenges such as time, finances, etc. that would otherwise deter us from being able to do the behavior. We can thank COVID for removing the barrier of time, as now we have more of it to binge watch shows, and Netflix for making it easily accessible to millions of subscribers around the world. What excuse did I really have?

Now, this is just one off-the-cuff example of how to apply the theory of planned behavior. The best way to grasp and test this theory is to apply it to other scenarios, even those of your customers to identify influences that could increase intention and drive behavior. You’ll find that it is one of the best ways to predict how your consumers will act, especially when it comes to making a purchase. 

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