The Ad Agency Behind “Virginia Is For Lovers” Says “Virginia Is For Everyone”

September 25, 2017

Fast Company

By Jeff Beer

Back in 1969, a Richmond, Virginia-based advertising agency called Martin and Woltz created an ad campaign for the Virginia State Travel Service (now the Virginia Tourism Corporation) that would go on to become one of the most recognized tourism slogans of all time, and what Advertising Age called one of the most iconic ad campaigns in the past 50 years. “Virginia is for lovers.”

It’s a tagline that evokes the exact opposite emotions of seeing the images from Charlottesville over the weekend, and the president’s reaction since. And outside The Martin Agency (formerly Martin and Woltz), agency creatives put a new twist on the classic tagline, adding #standforlove and swapping it on social media with “Virginia is for everyone.”

What started as a sign outside the agency’s front door has been picked up by the Virginia Tourism Corporation on Instagram, aiming to promote a more positive image of the state as soon as possible.

“We know that Charlottesville and the state of Virginia are places we know and love, and we know they’re diverse, inclusive, and welcoming,” says The Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams. “We also know the violence we saw last weekend isn’t what that city or the state is about. ‘Virginia is for lovers’ has always been true, and it’s never been a more relevant message to send.”

The agency, particularly known for its work for long-time client Geico, and this year’s award-winning “The World’s Biggest Asshole” PSA for Donate Life, boasts a diverse group of 400 employees, most from out of state. Williams sent out a companywide memo to remind and reassure them that the terrible events happening just 70 miles away did not represent Virginia.

“We’ve got a 52-year history in Virginia, and we love this state,” says Williams. “When things like this weekend happen, it shakes everyone, and it was important for our people to know that we understand they’re affected by these things, and that we stand with them. We stand with being inclusive and diverse, and it was important they hear that from me.”

Asked if he thinks the events in Charlottesville will affect the Virginia brand, Williams says he hopes that despite all the global coverage, better voices will prevail.

“When something terrible like this happens, one of the reactions is often people who may have otherwise remained quiet about their own convictions around inclusivity and diversity find their voice,” says Williams. “We’ve seen it happen and it’s inspiring. This is not okay. This kind of violence is unacceptable. And these voices are getting louder denouncing it.”

Posted By: The Martin Agency

It Began With a Gecko. Mayhem (and Flo and Peyton) Ensued.

September 25, 2017

The New York Times


By Joanne Kaufman

Decades ago, commercials for insurance companies followed certain formulas.

There were the ads featuring happy families, with a voice-over offering reassurance that all would remain well for those who chose the right coverage. There were ads with images of fires, floods, tornadoes and burglaries, stark reminders of how suddenly and seriously things could go awry. There were cautionary tales of parents who died unexpectedly and uninsured, leaving their children in the lurch. (A young John Travolta was the star of one such heart-tugger.) Then there were the testimonials from satisfied customers, and monologues from insurance agents about their devotion to duty.

A few ads may have used humor, but they were the outliers. Insurance, the vast majority of the ads seemed to say, was a solemn business.

These days, however, you would be hard pressed to find an insurance company commercial that isn’t going for laughs. Consider the Geico gecko, Progressive’s Flo, Allstate’s Mayhem, the didactic Professor Burke of Farmers Insurance and Peyton Manning’s vocal stylings for Nationwide.

By most accounts, the game changer was the gecko. The redoubtable reptilian mascot, which made its debut in 1999, was conceived by the Martin Agency to both reinforce Geico’s name and help the public figure out how to pronounce it. (The name stands for Government Employees Insurance Company.)

Since then, Geico’s ad campaigns have featured the cave men, Maxwell the pig and rhetorical questions like: “Could switching to Geico really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance? Does a 10-pound bag of flour make a really big biscuit?”

“Insurance doesn’t make you happy very often, so we thought that the advertising should have a smile to it,” said Joe Alexander, the chief creative officer of the Martin Agency, which has had the Geico account for 23 years.

Before Geico signed on with Martin, it had a 2 percent market share and was the eighth-largest car insurance company in the United States, according to Dean Jarrett, the agency’s chief communications officer. It is now No. 2, behind State Farm.

Rivals in the category took note.

“Geico came out and said that people don’t care that much about insurance; insurance is a burden category, so let’s lighten the burden,” said Britt Nolan, the chief creative officer at Leo Burnett U.S.A. and a member of the team that created the Mayhem character for Allstate. “Let’s make it simple and cheap, and let’s make the brand feel likable and fun.

“I think they showed everyone else that there was another instrument available to be played,” Mr. Nolan added. “And now all these other brands are trying to find their own unique voice in comedy.”

Humor is also a way for insurance companies to connect with younger people.

“‘Good neighbors.’ ‘We’re on your side.’ That’s how insurance companies used to communicate, but it was for an older consumer,” said Mr. Alexander of the Martin Agency. “Today, we’re trying to reach a much younger, more cynical audience.”

Whatever the target audience, the humor has to be handled with care, said David Fowler, the executive creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, whose accounts include Nationwide.

“It’s a rich area with endless possibilities, and you have to be vigilant about going beyond the edge,” he said. “The online world will quickly tell you where the edge is.”

In any case, the punch line shouldn’t overwhelm the pitch. “We can’t forget that we sell, or else,” Mr. Fowler said, quoting David Ogilvy, the founder of his agency. “That’s rule one. In Geico’s case, most of the ad is crazy, but at the end there’s the message: 15 minutes saves 15 percent.”

Context is everything. “I think you have to divide the ads into categories, into property insurance and life insurance,” said Rachel Howald, the chief creative officer of the ad agency Invisible Man. “When you’re talking about a stolen TV, that’s not do or die, so there’s more latitude to have fun with it. But when you’re talking about the fate of individuals, there’s a reticence on the part of clients and insurance companies to make light of it.”

Insurance companies also have to draw a line between their ads (funny) and their intentions (earnest).

“We use humor to forge a bond with our customers,” said Cat Kolodij, the leader of marketing strategy at Progressive. “But we never make light of a situation when there’s an accident. We’re very clear that the humor doesn’t extend to our customer service group or our claims department.”

As Mr. Fowler of Ogilvy put it: “You can’t forget this is a serious product, and at the point of purchase you have to ground it in trust. The ad has to come back to earth at the moment of truth. Otherwise, you’re just goofy, and no one wants to buy insurance from a goofball.”

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Chris Shumaker Returns as CMO

September 05, 2017

The Martin Agency Hires Veteran Exec From FCB to Help Drive Growth

Chris Shumaker returns to his former employer


It's a homecoming for Chris Shumaker.

After 13 years, Chris Shumaker is returning to The Martin Agency.

He will serve in the newly-created role of executive vice president, managing director, growth and CMO.

Shumaker joins The Martin Agency from FCB, where he was promoted from North America to global CMO last year, following FCB’s win in the Clorox creative review.

“In his four years here, Chris made an incredible impact in helping to build and fuel our new business momentum. He brings a terrific level of smarts, charisma, passion and a genuine talent for connecting with others – all of which make him so great at what he does. We wish him the best of luck in his return home,” FCB Worldwide CEO Carter Murray said in a statement provided to Adweek.

FCB declined to elaborate on the agency’s plans for Shumaker’s replacement.

Shumaker previously spent over nine years with The Martin Agency, before leaving his position as senior vice president, director of development in 2004 to join Grey New York as executive vice president, business development. He later moved on to a role as U.S. CMO for Publicis North America after a previous stint as FCB’s global CMO. He is also a founding member of the 4A’s New Business Development Committee.

“Chris is not only one of the most versatile and well-respected business development people in our industry, he’s a longtime friend and ally to the agency. We’re thrilled to have him back,” The Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams said in a statement. “Chris will partner with Liz Toms, who will continue in her role as director of business development, and he will play a vital role in our executive leadership to drive the growth and evolution of our company.”

“This is truly a homecoming for me. I have had the privilege of working with the best people in the industry of late, and now I get to do it without getting on a plane,” Shumaker added. “The Martin Agency is a world-class agency with a deep and rich history of results-oriented creativity. I am delighted to rejoin as it allows me to work at the highest level with people I know and love.”

The move follows The Martin Agency closing its New York office after over a decade this past April, following a staff reduction in both its New York office and Richmond, Va., headquarters the month prior.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Lauren Prociv on The Drum's Inaugural 50 Under 30

August 17, 2017

Meet The Drum’s US 50 under 30 honorees from the South

By Minda Smiley | August 17, 2017

Each day this week, The Drum has been highlighting 10 of the 50 talented women that make up our inaugural 50 under 30 in the US, a list that is celebrating women across the country who are putting themselves - and their cities - on the map via their creativity, achievements and dedication to an industry that is changing at a fast clip.

Today we are featuring our honorees from the South. Each was chosen with the help of a judging panelthat included MullenLowe Los Angeles executive creative director Margaret Keene, Colle McVoy executive creative director Laura Fegley, Arnold Worldwide chief creative officer Icaro Doria and Barker EVP-creative director Sandi Harari.

After receiving nominations from readers, the judges helped choose the final 50, who will also be featured in the October issue of The Drum's magazine.

Below, our finalists from the South discuss career achievements, advice they’d give to those just starting out in advertising and favorite things about living and working in their respective cities.

Lauren Prociv, senior strategic planner-UX at The Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia

What is your biggest career achievement to date?

Learning how to play golf. I took up the game because I was tired of hearing the adage about how many deals and decisions are made out there and I didn’t want to miss out. Now I love it. It’s cheesy but the game is one giant metaphor for strategy, confidence and persistence in a world full of both sunny days and windy days and you have to be able to play through both.

What brand means the most to you?

Coca-Cola. When I was 13-years-old, I wrote and mailed (neither Facebook nor Twitter were invented yet..) them an angry letter over something hilariously trivial about their can art (long story). Two weeks later a giant package of swag arrived with a hand-signed letter thanking me for my passion. And there was two of everything because at the end of my letter I said something to the effect of, “P.S., my twin sister is mad at you too.”

What one piece of advice would you offer someone entering advertising today?

Creativity is a muscle. Too often I hear "I'm not creative enough for advertising." Well, you couldn't do 100 push-ups if you've never done push-ups before either, right? You can do both those things if you put in the work, stay focused and never settle.

Continue to The Drum.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

SVP/Group Planning Director Matt Mattox in Campaign

July 25, 2017

Strategy too left-brained? Planner, heal thyself. 

by Matt Mattox | Campaign US | July 06, 2017

The Martin Agency's svp/group planning director makes the case for using both sides of your brain.

There’s a seductive enemy among us — certainty. Actually, it’s the illusion of certainty we’ve inappropriately bestowed upon data (big, small, fast, slow).

For the record, I’m not a data hater. As a planner, I love data. Data is rightly and unquestionably critical to what we do, and will only become more so. But I believe data needs to be put in its rightful place. It’s an input, not a panacea. The key to our past and future success as planners (as well as quants) stems from our creativity.

Sir John Hegarty has commented on the topic of data and its relationship to creatives. But I believe data seduction is an even more dangerous enemy for strategists. Especially now that "big data" has made the transition from next-big-thing to a given. 


You’ve heard it before, and it’s true: strategists/planners need to be both right- and left-brained. (Right being the creative side; left, the logical.) Planners need both sides to come up with single-minded messages, ideas and strategies that are inspiring and born from fresh insight. Single-minded messages, ideas and strategies that are clear and supported.

So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t more data mean we have more tools at our left brain’s disposal than ever before? More information to dig into? Yep. But at the same time, I’m not confident our success rate at developing remarkable strategies is increasing. I actually wonder if it’s decreasing. How could this be?

I think the problem is, well, us. 

We’re letting data get the better of us. We’re letting it affect how we think. We’re letting it consciously, and even more dangerous, subconsciously, make us more (and too) heavily left-brained.

We’re placing too much emphasis on synthesis and too little on provocation.

Too much on clarifying and too little on questioning.

Too much on reductionism and too little on possibilities.  

Too much on information and too little on imagination.

Too much on accuracy and too little on awesomeness. 

Too much on left-brain thinking and too little on right-brain thinking.

What makes this so tricky is that the increased availability and ability to manipulate data has actually made that hemisphere more vital than ever. So we can’t and shouldn’t just excise left-brain thinking. Unfortunately, it comes down to something much more difficult and delicate — constantly looking in the mirror and keeping ourselves honest.

And like a frog in a warming pot of water, if we’re not actively self-aware, we won’t notice our rational brain invisibly killing our most creative thinking (or the ideas of those around us). It’s this unnoticed, uncontested, inner threat to our creativity that scares me most.  

I wonder what would happen if more of us (brand planners, UX planners, media planners, engagement planners, comms planners, data scientists, quants, whatever your flavor of strategy) consciously led with our right brain, and not our left. 

If we listened more to our heart. Took more leaps of faith. Swung more freely. And made a point to convince others through our conviction in addition to our logic. I believe we’d be the planners we want to be more often. We’d be the correctly balanced planners our teams and clients want us to be.  

Yes, we need to be right- and left-brained. But you’ll be a better planner when you make the conscious commitment to use your left-brain powers in service of your right. 

You’ll know you’re on the right track when your ideas make you and those around you excited and nervous. If you’re not seeing or feeling this, flex the right side of your brain. Quick. It will make what you do more rewarding, more valuable, more impactful, more fun. 

As my CSO and friend Earl Cox has said, at its heart, planning is about taking informed leaps. Don’t let the see-it-to-believe-it cautiousness of left-brain thinking keep you from leaving the ground. And beware of the insidiously warming water that can cook away your creativity. Lead with your right brain. Your left will follow — helping you both take off, and land, smartly.

Matt Mattox is svp/group planning director at The Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia.

Posted By: The Martin Agency

Martin Designers Create Game Of Thrones "Agency"

July 13, 2017

Westeros’s Top Design Agency Offers Case Studies On “Game Of Thrones” Houses

Fast Company | Dan Solomon 

WHAT:, a website that purports to be from the leading agency in Westeros (with an office in Essos, across the Narrow Sea, of course).

WHO: The Game of Thrones tribute project is a lark from Alex Zamiar and Jonathan Richman of the Martin Agency, with strategy and design help from Gigi Jordan and Matt Wojtysiak.

WHY WE CARE: With six seasons and approximately 10,000,000 thinkpieces behind us, it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything new to do with Game of Thrones–but Westeros Design is downright novel even for the most obsessed-over fantasy world this side of Middle Earth. Written as a series of in-world case studies from the firm that ostensibly designed the banners for Houses Stark, Lannister, Targaryen, Bolton, and Arryn–as well as the Titan of Braavos and the sigil of Lord Baelish–the site is surprisingly deep in its content, and a perfect example of the sort of agency-speak that is downright hilarious to imagine in a fantasy world.

“When you can ride, tame and give birth to dragons, it’s fairly obvious how you should direct your brand look and feel. So most of our work was done. But, when House Targaryen came to us there was one major problem hurting their public perception: no dragons. They had been extinct for several hundred years. In our opinion, all the flaxen hair and banners in the world couldn’t come close to doing what a terrifying giant fire-breathing killing machine could do for both brand recall and conversion.”

Every page of the site is fully in-character (visit “location” to see that they’re on the northwest side of King’s Landing, and don’t skip the “our team” page to meet the Dothraki head of new client acquisitions), which just proves that Zamiar and Richman seem to take their Game of Thrones fandom every bit as seriously as you do.DS

Continue to Fast Company.

Posted By: The Martin Agency