BOB ROSS VIDEO BRANDING GENIUS (HOW THE ROSS BRAND IS INSTRUCTIVE FOR YOUR BUSINESS VIDEOS)
By: Joshua C Pies of C47 Films in Orlando Florida
When I think back to summer in the 1990’s I recall fun with friends, swimming a lot, baseball and, believe it or not, Bob Ross. In between moments of play there are lulls where boredom sets in and kids go in search of a fix. Somehow many of us 90’s teens found The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. I know I never sought it out but it was there, waiting on our local PBS station, to lull us into an admiration of… what was it exactly? He was very “something” but all I knew then was Happy Trees made me happy.
As an adult, and a career marketing & entertainment professional, I have a greater perspective on the mystery and wonder that was The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross. This perspective may help you and your business grow it’s influence in your own marketplace – especially if you’re endeavoring to capture your market by producing videos.
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.
Is “absolutely 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 consistency 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 quirks, always adding a little happy tree or a bird in the background or fluffy cloud… We know happy trees and 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 a lasting 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 even watching a show again. We feel that way because he did the hard task of committing to simple, repeatable, clear instruction done over 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 your brand best if you follow the following Bob Ross Un-Official Brand Guidelines:
- KISS It. (Keep It Simple, Silly) – make your message SIMPLE.
- Repeat It. High repetition breeds recognition.
- 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.
Now, extend this to your video presence. Video production is the highest converting messaging on the internet. Meta’s products (Facebook and Instagram), as well as LinkedIn and TikTok, are all video platforms at this point. YouTube is the number two search engine (next to Google) for a reason, too. Businesses and brands must be in the video game but it can be hard to know what the right messaging is for a brand – unless you have Bob’s clarity.
Your audience will come to you because they align with you in some way. Honor that alignment. Give your audience both what they NEED and what they WANT. The need is often based in education. Often, a business audience will use your product or service – or something related – and they need to keep up with the industry. Education is a great video style that we at C47 Films recommend to many of our clients as a tactic. The want can be hard to nail down but in many cases, humans want clarity and clarity can come through your choice to be predictable. For you, this may be that you choose a format – like an outline to your videos that happens every time. It also may be that you have catchphrases that you adopt to help solidify a concept and you make those catchphrases into something worth parroting. We all did love those “happy trees”. What is your equivalent of “Happy Trees”?
Keep It Simple.
There’s nothing like TMI. It’s awful in personal conversations (those usually come with serious cringes) and just confusing in a video. If you tackle too much in a video you’ve lost me. Pick a single topic, which needs to be on-topic for your overall business messaging, and then address it. An example of this might be a Plumbing Company that does basic maintenance videos for homeowners. If they do a video on cleaning out a P-Trap (look under your sink, it’s either a P or an S trap and no, I’m not sure which is which and what’s best – I’m a marketing guy) then they should stick to the P-Trap conversation without prescribing the right temperature for your hot water heater. That’s a different topic for a different video. Less physical things – like business coaching – are more difficult to commit to simplicity but it’s important for all messaging to try. If a business coach is talking about leadership concepts in a video they are into a very broad and diverse category. That coach would do well to pick a single topic that is niche within leadership and just tackle that one thing. Other videos can cover more leadership concepts. What we need to avoid in any video messaging is confusion – we know what we were getting with Bob. Help us know what we’re getting with you.
This is really difficult. Repeating yourself feels wrong. Why? Because it can be boring. It can feel like you’re talking down to your audience, too. You are NOT demeaning anyone, in fact, you are ELEVATING others by helping them solidify their understanding. Your repetition is their practice. It is their confidence. It is their open door to TRUST YOU! Dare I say that you should get comfortable with repeating your messaging? Yes, let’s say it again. Repeat it.
Dance for it.
Your videos, wherever you put them, are on a digital stage. Let’s create a ridiculous example to help us understand right-stage and wrong-stage so you can see where you ought to dance for it. If I were to play a video in a church but it was advertising new tattoo gun technology to tattoo artists I feel as though it might be a mismatch. I’m guessing that there are not a ton of people who 1 – want to be sold to while in church and 2 – there are not many churches who have 100+ tattoo artists in the pews at any given time. Now, that same video at a tattoo convention would likely do pretty well. Right audience, right time, right message.
Your videos ought to be for an audience that will benefit from you and you from them. That audience “hangs out” somewhere. Where is it? Identify that stage and go dance on it. Bob’s stage was PBS and it was ideal for his show. What is your stage?
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 is an Orlando Florida (Kissimmee FL Offices) production company and branding agency that has produced one feature film which is available on Amazon Prime, three TV Series, eight documentaries, and TV and web ads for brands as varied 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, and their three amazing kids play on the beach or in magical castles as often as possible.