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Is Virginia Really for Lovers?

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The original Virginia Is For Lovers slogan/logo, created by Martin & Woltz (now The Martin Agency) in 1968.
The Martin Agency
The original Virginia Is For Lovers slogan/logo, created by Martin & Woltz (now The Martin Agency) in 1968.

"Virginia Is For Lovers." It's one of the most well-known tourism campaigns ever, and it comes to us care of the Richmond-based advertising company, Martin and Woltz, now known as The Martin Agency.

"We do the 'Save Money, Live Better' for Walmart," says president Mike Hughes. "And we do 'A fifteen-minute phone call can save you fifteen-percent or more' and all those crazy Geico commercials."

You might have heard stories about how "Virginia is for Lovers" was born. Like how it's a sly reference to Loving versus Virginia: the 1967 Supreme Court case that legalized inter-racial marriage in the Commonwealth. But as Hughes will tell you, there's no connection. Though the slogan was born just a year after the case, in 1968.

The Summer of Love was behind us, Woodstock was yet to come, and Martin and Woltz had just won the state tourism account. According to Hughes, the creative team is in George Woltz's penthouse office, "talking about how they'd advertise Virginia. Because Virginia has history, and Virginia has beaches, and Virginia has mountains." And that's when this idea of "lovers" started getting tossed around. One person called out, "Virginia is for history lovers." Another chimed in with "Virginia is for beach lovers." Someone else suggested, "Virginia is for mountain lovers."

As Hughes tells it, that's when a freelancer in the room suddenly piped up and asked, "Why don't you just say, 'Virginia is for Lovers'?"

Thus, a star slogan was born. Though, as Hughes says, at the time it did feel just a little naughty "and a little daring for this not always cutting-edge state. But I do think because the executions were never salacious or anything like that, it just started catching on!"

And in a pretty big way! In 1969, when the agency unveiled the slogan, visitors to Virginia generated about $800 million. Nowadays, the Commonwealth's annual tourist revenue tops $19 billion. But here's the thing: The original "Virginia is for Lovers" logo was a black background with a bright red heart, right? So, does the slogan also somehow refer to Virginia encouraging more romantic love than other states?

Many same-sex couples in the Commonwealth might say no. In 2006, Virginia defined marriage as between a man and a woman. And just this week, same-sex couples made their annual Valentine's Day pilgrimage to courthouses to apply for marriage licenses and, of course, got rejected. Their goal is to highlight the disparity between Virginia's gay couples, and straight couples, when it comes to marriage.

Fewer people getting married... and divorced

Speaking of straight couples and marriage, it turns out fewer and fewer of them are tying the knot. In 2000, about 59 percent of Virginian adults ages 18 to 64, were married. By 2010, that number had fallen to about 53 percent.

Those figures come to us care of the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, headed by Brad Wilcox. What's interesting, he says, is while fewer Virginians are getting married, fewer are getting divorced, too.

"I think the story here is that people are more gun-shy, particularly in the wake of the recession to go ahead and get married," says Wilcox. "But they're also more gun-shy to end a marriage given all the economic uncertainty that's facing the state, and the country as a whole."

Feeling the love in Virginia

Despite the declining numbers, Virginia's marriage and divorce rates still surpass the national average. But marriage and divorce only tell part of the story. Romantic love can be measured by other things, too. That's why we swung by an arguably romantic spot in Virginia -- Old Town Alexandria -- where we ducked into a little French bistro on King Street. We headed to the upstairs piano bar and asked patrons if Virginia is, indeed, for lovers of the romantic variety.

"I actually think it is true," says Sharon Eddy. "There's a lot of romantic places in Virginia. Alexandria's a wonderful romantic city. We've also got Virginia Beach and a lot of great bed and breakfasts."

Keith Miller says he "went to school in the Shenandoah Valley and that part of it certainly is for lovers. I used to tell people it's where they keep all the stars. It's just amazing; you see so many more stars than you would see in the middle of D.C., for example."

"I've lived in many states," says Charlie Menzie. "But having come to Virginia, I have found that it is, indeed, for lovers. You're caught between the warmth of the south and the intellectual insights from the north, and it kind of leads you in a particular direction. And that direction is love."

Jalika Gaskin says she thinks, "Virginia is for people that have a love of something. A passion for something. For culture, food - anything that really makes you feel good."

And that "passion," says Alisa Bailey, the Virginia Tourism Corporation's president and CEO, is precisely the point. In fact, as she mentions in a 2009 video commemorating the slogan's 40th anniversary, she thinks "Virginia is for Lovers" has come to be misunderstood.

"Some people connote it with romance," she says. "And they think all it's about is romance. Really what it's about, it's a love of travel, and a passion for living."

And of course, Mike Hughes agrees.

"You can go to places in Virginia that are so inspiring for their natural beauty, for their historical background," he says. "Nobody knows quite where love comes from, but I think this is an awfully good environment for planting it, and growing it."

[Music: "Grazing in the Grass" by Hugh Masekela from Still Grazing / "Is This Love" by Steve Fishell & David West from Pickin' On Bob Marley - Jamming Bluegrass Celebrates]

Photos: 'Virginia is for Lovers' logo over the years

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