Bob Ross – the softly spoken marketing genius.
For many of us, when we hear the name Bob Ross, we think of two things. Fluffy little clouds, and big hair. The American painter, who for years charmed the world with his series “The Joy of Painting,” is synonymous with a relaxed demeanor and soft voice, wonderful landscape paintings done in 30 minutes, and an impressive perm. What many of us are not aware of though, is how much of a genius marketer he was.
His programme, The Joy of Painting, which comprised of Bob Ross and his canvas standing in front of a black set, always consisted of the same thing. Bob would create a painting without sketching it first, apparently off the top of his head, in 30 minutes or less.
The show ran for 11 years and had over 31 seasons – roughly one per quarter – which speaks volumes about Bob Ross’ work ethic and his single-minded obsession with providing the service that he loved to his clients. But there was more to him than simply working hard: he knew how to work smart.
He wore a button-down shirt and jeans for every single episode because he believed that the outfit would have a timeless appeal – it would never go out of style. This way, his show would still be appealing no matter when it was aired. And it is still being aired almost a quarter of a century after the final episode was broadcast.
In fact, he hated his trademark permed hair, which originally had been done to save money in the early days of the programme. But by the time he had enough money to start getting regular haircuts again, it had become a trademark, a defining image of his brand, something that was instantly recognizable. So, to stay “on brand”, he kept the haircut that he hated for the rest of his life.
We understand that often, getting eyes on our product is difficult. How will people purchase our goods or services if they don’t know about them. To that end, wouldn’t it be great if we were offered free advertising in the form of a guest appearance one of the biggest shows on TV? Well, this is exactly what Bob Ross was offered when he was contacted about appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
But he turned it down. Why? Because they didn’t want him to do any painting. He felt that it would have damaged his brand. He felt that this opportunity would have diluted the message that he was trying to convey, namely that anyone can paint. And on top of all that, it took him away from doing what he loved most, which was painting. So, he turned down an opportunity most business owners would kill for and instead focused on delivering his message, delivering it consistently, with no distractions, and no brand incongruity.
By staying true to his message, staying consistent, and making sacrifices to ensure that the message was instantly recognisable and timeless, he went from a public access programme on only 50 channels to the owner of a multi-million-dollar business.
Without selling a single painting.