Big Ideas

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Bob Ross is a Branding genius


Bob Ross is a beloved icon in America. He was super predictable and stayed in a very clear lane.

Think about what he did:

  • He always painted landscapes.
  • He always used the liquid white “just a thin, even coat, just enough to make the canvas wet” as he started a painting.
  • He always used oil as his primary medium.
  • He always had that angled knife.
  • He always had the fan brush to do the happy trees. Happy Trees!
  • He always painted a landscape. ALWAYS!

Yes, there would be variations he would do to bring out. He’d make different landscapes – Summer, Winter, Fall, Spring, with river, no river, pond yes, pond no, big sky at sunset, overcast or nighttime… but ALWAYS LANDSCAPES. He never did a portrait. He never did a still life. Maybe in his personal life or in his own art he did – I’ll bet in fact that he was fully capable of other styles but I actually could not tell you for sure. What he presented to you faithfully on PBS for many seasons in a row, was how to create a landscape and the truth that there was Joy in Painting because for more than 20 seasons he brought us the Joy of Painting.

He had certain iconic things about him too:

  • The awesome Afro.
  • The blue shirt.
  • The clear, plastic pallet where he had all of his colors on.

He always had the color list displayed at the beginning of the show so you knew how to try to recreate what he was doing. If you wanted, you could work along with him. ABSOLUTELY PREDICTABLE.

“Wait, you thought Bob Ross was predictable? I don’ think so.”

Is “absolute predictable” a good brand trait though? Wouldn’t you want to surprise and delight your audience? Sure, there are many brands that will thrive on constant change – especially modern influencers for younger audiences that crave pop culture and “cutting edge”. Even so, there’s a consistence within those brands that you can bet on. Let’s take an outdated cliche to prove it to ourselves. The cast of the Jersey Shore was unreliable. They’d start a fight, fall out with each other, drink a lot. They were not safe people to have as friends YET… we knew exactly that about them. They were a hot mess and that’s why people watched. You were guaranteed a train wreck in every episode. Predictable! Many hits grow from consistency. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy are great examples – these are formulaic and predictable experiences. But Bob Ross was not a game show nor was he a group of insane New Jersey natives.

Why is Bob’s an awesome brand? He singularly trained his tribe – his followers, the people who knew, loved and trusted him. He trained them in his way, and we all adored him for it. Consider all of the the quirks, the always adding a little happy tree or a bird in the background or fluffy cloud… We know fluffy clouds, because of him. His soothing tone and the way he delivered became comfortable and that was his brand.

One of the hard truths about marketing (and also about teaching anything) is that people have a limited capacity to absorb an idea in any given moment. They (we all) have an equally difficult time building from one experience to another to build competency and mastery. The most simple messages, repeated with frequency, become memory. Memory and brand run hand in hand. If you don’t remember much of your experience of a brand then clearly that brand has failed. Bob is known for so many basic but clear things that it feels like to many that we could paint a “Ross-Like” painting without event watching a show again. We feel that way because he did the hard task of committing to simple, repeatable, clear instruction done over and and over again.

Really, if that isn’t an epic example of top notch branding I don’t know what is. For years Pepsi was The Taste of A New Generation and Coke was Refresh Yourself and anyone who watched TV or listened to the Radio even 1x a month for a year knew this by heart. The reason – Repetition (we call it Frequency in the “ad biz”).

How this relates to your brand is quite simple. Your audience will know you brand best if you follow the following Bob Ross Un-Official Brand Guidelines:

Bob Ross Branding Rule 3 - Dance for it
Bob Ross Branding Rule #3 – Dance for it.
  1. KISS It. (Keep It Simple, Silly) – make your message SIMPLE.
  2. Repeat It. High repetition breeds recognition.
  3. Dance for It. “Be there for them before they know who you are.”

#3 is less obvious as a term so let’s consider what would have happened if Bob Ross only did community art shows at the local library. He’d have no comparative following. What if he went on HBO? Lots of eyeballs but the wrong venue and audience. PBS was had then and continues to have an intellectually curious and artistic audience. He was where his people would be if he had people. Eventually, we became a part of his tribe because we were already there and the type of people ready for him. He found the right stage to dance on. You MUST identify your target tribe and, as I often say, “Be there for them before they know who you are”.

Branding is an investment that aligns with farming. Seeds sewn just look like work and dirt until they germinate, grow and bear fruit. There are no overnight successes in branding.

No matter whether you are a personal brand – 1 person here to be seen by the world (read: tribe or niche) – or you are managing a brand that needs to be seen as an available product or service – you must KISS It, Repeat It, and Dance For It so you can be like Bob Ross.

About the Author:

Josh Pies is a video advertising & branding expert. He’s spent most of his life work-shopping ways to get attention – be it sales for his first business which he started at age 4, customers for his property services company at age 23, or laughs and viewership on his first National TV Show at age 26 where he was producer and head writer. He believes in getting attention and loves the power of modern content creation for what it can do for businesses and personal brands.
Josh is the executive producer of C47 Film Associates. C47 Films has produced one feature film which is available on Amazon Prime, three TV Series, eight documentaries, and TV and web ads for brands as various as Kodak, The John Maxwell Team, and the US Department of Labor. Josh Speaks at events on the topics of video branding, how to stand out as a professional, and the power of purpose. Josh lives in Orlando Florida where he, his wife Shannon nd their three amazing kids play on the beach or in magical castles as often as possible.

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