Q&A: Gov. Tim Kaine Reflects on 40 Years of ‘Virginia Is for Lovers’

One of the most iconic tourism taglines

In 1969, creatives at the Richmond, Va., ad agency Martin & Woltz, which would later become The Martin Agency, were tasked with developing new tourism advertising that would draw the next generation of visitors to the state. The line they came up with, "Virginia is for lovers," has become one of the most enduring and recognized tourism slogans of all time.

The first ad to feature the line ran in the March 1969 issue of Modern Bride. The tourism numbers since then speak for themselves. In 1969, visitors spent about $800 million in Virginia. By 2007, that number reached almost $19 billion.

This year, Virginia Tourism Corp. is celebrating the slogan's 40th anniversary with special events and promotions.

In January, Adweek talked with Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia and chairman of the Democratic National Committee, about the line's durability, flexibility and general mystique.

Adweek: Forty years is a long time for a tourism slogan to survive these days. How do you explain the longevity of this one?
Gov. Kaine: It's simple. I think simplicity is a virtue. So, I would say, simplicity first. And then, the second thing I would say is, you can vary it. They've been able to do things like "Virginia is for mountain lovers," "Virginia is for beach lovers," "Virginia is for music lovers." You can insert all kinds of words in before "lovers" to highlight the different neat things that Virginia has to offer.

It's compelling, but in a totally general way.
My father-in-law [Linwood Holton] was governor of Virginia when they came up with this slogan 40 years ago. And I think one of the things he really liked about it was that an awful lot of the Virginia tourism promotions then, and even today, focus on the past, on our history, which is fantastic. But you have to make sure to put a message across that's not just about the past. I think "Virginia is for lovers" is great today. And I think 40 years ago it was a real break from the way Virginia had been marketed. It was about the feeling of today rather than, you know, come to Virginia and learn about the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

The line is somewhat vague. Which could be taken as a compliment or a criticism.
It is a little vague. But again, it makes it kind of plastic. You can kind of change the meaning of it. If you're focused on our Crooked Road bluegrass music trail, it's for music lovers. Or if you want to spend your time, like I do, on the Appalachian Trail and in the outdoors, then it's for mountain or trail lovers. That's a nice feature of the slogan that can stand up well over time.

Your father-in-law, Gov. Holton, recently said he was concerned back in the early '70s that the slogan might be too provocative. I guess that wouldn't be a concern today.
(Laughs) No, definitely not now. Some were of the view that it was a bit racy. But he got it right away and thought it would be great. But there were a few qualms with it then.

Virginia has also been using the line "Live passionately" recently, as a kind of second slogan. Would that ever replace the original?
No, not at all. "Live passionately" is a slight variation within the same theme. I don't think we would have "Live passionately" by itself. It kind of works because it connects with "Virginia is for lovers." And it's just a way to take that theme, which we're going to continue to use, and give it a new spin.

How important do you think a slogan is to any state's economic health these days?
I wouldn't want to overestimate it, but I think it is important to have something that will cause an association in someone's mind. You want to be remembered. And you also want to have a brand or a tagline that is attractive. We feel pretty good about the fact that after people come here once, they'll come back. But a tagline or brand is maybe particularly helpful in trying to get people to come for the first time. And "Virginia is for lovers," in the way it's been used over time, has done a good job of creating that interest.

Speaking of classic tourism slogans, "I ♥ NY" was supposedly inspired by "Virginia is for lovers."
Yeah, at least, that's the way everyone here in Virginia knows the story. (laughs)

I can imagine which one you think is better.
You know, one of the things I thought was really fantastic was, after 9/11, Virginia state tourism purchased a full-page ad in The New York Times that said, "Virginia ♥ New York." Which people really took notice of and appreciated.

Do you see "Virginia is for lovers" lasting another 40 years?
Man, I don't know. My father-in-law and I went to the 40th anniversary celebration, and I think he was sort of stunned that it had lasted 40 years. He was proud, too. It's hard to imagine something lasting 40 years and, particularly in the world of marketing and branding, lasting another 40. But you know, love is an endless fascination. It will continue to have a fresh meaning 40 years from now. You know, in 40 years, it might be "Virginia is for cyberspace lovers" or something. What it will serve will be different, but I think the basic framework of it is probably going to hold up pretty well.