What you can learn from the (video) branding expert: Happy Painter Bob Ross

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Okay, I can imagine that you saw this title and thought: Is Arantja okay? Because, Bob Ross, isn’t that the TV-painter who always makes those crazy nature scenes? And for everyone who was born a little after me and lives in the Netherlands: maybe you have been watching Viceland and he appeared on your screen after your favourite show. And after 30 minutes you realise you have just watched a guy paint an entire landscape from scratch. And tells you how to do it like it’s nothing.

Still doesn’t ring a bell? This is a compilation of the mystery man:

But I am very serious about this: the famous “Happy Painter” is an example to analyse very well. Because what he did in those 30 minute long shows called “The Joy Of Painting”, wasn’t just creating next level paintings. It’s something we only have recently realised how valuable it is when you can enchant everyone with your work like that. So let’s get into it.

Bob Ross

The show aired on TV in the 80s and 90s. And it could have been on for much long if he didn’t have to stop as he sufferd from a lymphoma. But what made his work so popular? I mean, no offence, but his paintings kind of remind me of those cheap ones that you find at garage sales and cheap markets everywhere. Even though the technique is amazing, this is not the only thing you need to be successful.

So the other day I sat down for a couple of Bob Ross episodes. And I have came to the following conclusions: There are three important factors which make Bob Ross such an icon. Passion, personal branding and storytelling.

1. Personal Branding

Like no other Bob Ross knew what was needed for a good image: authenticity and simplicity. With his permed afro (yes, this isn’t even his own hair!) every episode he made wildernis landscapes with his ‘happy little trees’, lakes and mountains.

Because he gave himself some restrictions he made the viewer curious about what kind of magic he would create on his canvas the next time. And even though it all looks so simple, everyone knows that if you would paint alongside him, you would never be able to reach this level.

‘Not too personal’ branding

Beside that he was very specific about what aspects of his life he would share with you. His son - also painter and teacher - once got to take over an episode, his love for animals and nature regularly passed by (filmed his back yard and animals he saved, with his own handy cam), but what else he did in his daily life, what was on his mind or who else was a part of his life, he never shared. And still we all have the feeling that we know him.

Now of course this was a lot easier back then. You could be a ‘one note’ celebrity who didn’t have to speak about other subjects. And with social media and personal branding these days it almost seems that you have to share everything. But honestly we know it ourselves too: we don’t care what you eat at every meal or when you’r doing laundry. And we don’t care for who a famous singer votes or what the football players from PSV eat for dinner. We just want to know about a small part of someone’s life: whether you really are that good at what you do, what’s on your mind and where your passion comes from.

2. Passion

I think we can all agree that Bob Ross has a lot of fun in his work. The same 13 colours, among which are Phthalo Blue, Titanium White and Sap Green have gained their own fame among us and never ended up boring him. And every time he uses the same techniques with the same brushes. But how can it be that he was able to stay on TV for 11 years, and now finds renewed fame through YouTube and Viceland?

Passion. He is always smiling on camera. He tells us with joy about all kinds of things that help you join his fantasy world. For example, when he paints a cave you almost expect a bear to come out of it, and at the lake it surprises you that no deer or rabbit is drinking water from it. Even washing the brushes is a joy with Bob Ross! Just beat the devil out of them

Quality oozes passion

Also quality oozes passion. When someone is so good at what they do, that it looks like a peace of cake, you can imagine he must have worked hard for years to become that good. This is also a tool which I often use in my work. You don’t actually need to see the creator at work, to see that there’s passion in it. Just highlight certain details and you reach the same goal.

Brain orgasms

There is another aspect of his videos which we didn’t know back then, but it is probably the reason why it created a lot of pleasure with the viewers. It’s called ASMR. The Autonomous sensory meridian response is a sensation that mostly is described as pleasant and calming, and can be induced bij certain visual and auditive incentives, among which are speaking softly and whispering. Just like Bob Ross did in his shows. But also the sound of the brush on canvas is an incentive. He even is viewed as one of the accidental pioneers of ASMR thanks to his videos.

This experience is also being described as brain orgasms. Which makes you think: have we been fooled and impressed with his voice, not his art? 🤪

3. Storytelling

The concept of storytelling is all about the structure that a story has. It has a begin, a middle and an end. It takes suspense into account and builds up excitement. Where we used to share stories around the campfire, birthday cake or coffee machine, we created groups who knew and trusted each other. The stories we shared introduced new people to our culture and the stories connected us. The storyteller had authority; everything he told was important and wise (or funny).

Through film Bob Ross shared his knowledge about painting. And as we later on came together around the television to learn the important stories from the news, a lot that was share through TV we saw as knowledge and truth. It was a part of our culture and connectedness. Now such an account on YouTube does the same thing all over again.

Other than that painting is also a type of storytelling. The structure, the stories he tells about the animals that might live in that forest and the knowledge to become as good as him, are powerful tools we now see as a part of storytelling. And storytelling turns out to be the biggest tool to give your brand fame and value.

What can we learn from Bob Ross?

1. Personal branding

Authenticity and simplicity are keywords here. Essentially it pays off to highlight one of your motives for doing what you do. In marketing terms this is your USP (Unique Selling Point). In the case of Bob Ross this is his love of nature.

2. Passion

Show how much fun it is for you to do your job. Make sure you are as comfortable as possible and take your followers with you in your world. Extra points for even showing your excitement during “boring” mandatory aspects in your profession. And show the end result in your work. Details and craftsmanship scream passion.

3. Storytelling

Telling your story invites your follower to experience your world, and to feel connected with you. You are the authority in this situation, and this shows that you know what you are talking about. And as you find it important to share this, others will experience it as knowledge and truth. This way you become an important part of their culture.
Whatever your business is, essentially you are telling a story. The story about your brand, about your passion. Whether you sell houses, decorate cakes or photograph, you always tell a story.


Oh my god! On this page you can’t even watch a full Bob Ross video! But don’t worry, here you find his own freaking YouTube channel, including behind-the-story documentary about his journey to become America’s pop icon. Let’s do some bingewatching!

Do you want to expand your personal brand with educational video and give your prospects an opportunity to take a look in your (professional) world? You can do this by having made a portrait, video for your social media (or both!). And once I already came very close to making a video series for a painter, so if you actually want to pull a “Bob Ross”? Holla at your girl!

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Curious about what your (corporate) film would look like? An exploratory meeting with me is always free. Contact me by filling in this form and find out how I would film and share your personal branding story.