[Story Sells] The Joy of Bob Ross: the hidden selling technique used by this mild-mannered painter in nearly every episode

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When I feel stressed out at the end of the day, and I need to relax, I’ve got something better than single malt scotch.

I tune in to an artist with a big ‘fro named Bob Ross, and step in his world of Happy Little Trees, in the Joy of Painting Series.

(How’d he get to be so calm? I read Bob was in the Air Force and had to do a lot of yelling. When he got out, he vowed he wouldn’t yell again.)

Although the show teaches you how to paint, each episode of this PBS series was a little story with a beginning, middle, and end. You get ready for the journey with the right paints and a blank canvas, then you start fleshing out the big shapes and see the picture emerge, and finally you put on the flourishing touches that bring it all together.

And, as a good storyteller, Bob Ross uses a special story technique to tie his tales together. This technique helps create a unique world that you want to come back to again and again. I call ‘em Bobisms, and they’re a very powerful way to draw people in your world. Especially when you sprinkle them throughout your free content that points to product.

Which in a way, The Joy of Painting series was.

Because whether it was by intention or not, the show was a marketing powerhouse for a big “back end”: Bob created a line of painting supplies: brushes, palette knives, instructional books and videos, and paints … including ones he invented like “Black Gesso” and “Liquid Clear” that are still sold today.

(I geeked out recently when I saw an entire line of Bob Ross supplies at Hobby Lobby.)

And, at least during the time of the show, he also mailed a newsletter. And had travelling instructors.

(Including his son Steve who was a sometimes guest painter. His super power: painting mountains better even than Dad).

Not that you’re interested in the “happy little buck” – but if you are, Bobisms are a way to help you get it.

What is a Bobism?

You probably already know:

“Little Doers”

“Happy Accidents”

“Agony City”

“Beat the devil out of it.”

And of course “Happy Little Trees.”

PBS made little mash up a few years ago of these Bobisms:

Now, catch phrases and sayings are great to really flesh out a character in your stories, especially the author character.

(Ben Settle’s persona in his daily emails for Email Players is a great example.)

But when you watch Bob Ross, he’s more than just a collection of folksy, charming sayings.

If you binge watch him, a message comes through. When he says things like …

“If nothing else, painting should make you happy.”

“This is your world.”

“There are no mistakes. Just happy accidents.”

“You get an artist’s license with the first tube of paint you buy. It says you can do anything you want on this canvas. You can move mountains.”

… and says them over and over, a clear picture emerges. Of a world in which you can actually paint. You can do it!

And, incidentally, it’s only natural you’d seek out Bob’s painting supplies. For good reason, too. He designed his oil paints to be thicker than was common. This was necessary for the wet-on- wet technique Bob taught.

(Without that thicker paint, you could wind up in Agony City, my friend.)

So, especially if you’re writing an email series, or teaching content, you can use this technique to convey your values. What’s most important to you and what, in fact, your product or service embodies.

Essentially, you’re singing the soul of your brand.

You’ve got to know what this on a deep level, of course.

For Bob, I imagine it was easy, because that’s who he was, as far as I can tell.

When it’s an artificial pose, it takes a lot more work. And might not be as fun.

The MORAL: Use “Bobisms” – statements of core beliefs told in a distinct way — to blend your content together.

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Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry
Scott McKinstry is a direct response copywriter who specializes in telling stories. You can contact Scott and learn more about using the power of stories in marketing at marketingwithstory.com.
Showing 4 comments
  • Tim Woo

    I’ve been watching Bob Ross for a while now, but I had NO IDEA he created worlds like the way you described. However, those “catch phrases” rang so loud in my head, my roommates would repeat them non-stop.
    My favorite line is, “There are no mistakes. Only happy accidents.”
    I knew there was something special about Bob Ross, and you helped me understand it better.
    Anyone who hasn’t watched him yet, prepare to be mind = blown.

    • Reply

      Thanks, Tim. Yeah, he’s hard to get out of your head. But who would want to:)?

  • Reply

    Interesting side point: Bob started out with the big Afro, but some point along the way decided he kind of hated it…but he couldn’t cut it off: it was too closely tied to his persona. So he was stuck with it. Oh, and he really was as nice of a guy as he seemed on TV, kind of like Mr. Rogers.

    • Reply

      Good point, Lisa. Guess we need to be careful what our costume will be.
      But at least his hair gave a good hiding place for his pocket squirrels:)

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