Richmond advertising pioneer David Martin dies at age 82

He put Richmond on the advertising map.

In 1964, virtually all the real, professional advertising in America came from three cities – New York, Chicago and, mainly for television production, Los Angeles.

In 1965, David Martin started changing all that. In July of that year, he and business partner George Wolz founded a Richmond agency called, of all things, Martin & Wolz. Ten years later, Wolz left the business and it became The Martin Agency, today a world powerhouse in advertising.

“When David Martin first started, he looked in New York and saw what Bill Bernbach was doing with Volkswagen and said ‘we’re going to do that here,’” Joe Alexander, the agency’s current executive creative director, told WTVR.

Bernbach’s agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach, had it easier. They had a small, ugly, cramped but distinctive German car to start a creative advertising revolution with. Martin’s agency had agricultural pesticides. Nonetheless, he was able to lead his agency to crate ads that, in Alexander’s words, “surprise, delight and break through the clutter, and use creativity to help companies bottom line grow.”

Over the decades, one of Dave Martin’s core strengths was his ability to get to the heart of a brand’s personality, culture and identity. He pioneered what’s now called branding.

In 1969, when four-year-old Martin & Wolz was working on Virginia tourism advertising, one of their copywriters came up with the line, “Virginia is for history lovers.” Sensing, perhaps, that either the line was too restrictive or that “history” sounded too dull, Martin suggested deleting the word. The resulting slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” with its heart icon, went on to become the world’s best-known tourism advertising line.

The Martin Agency was the first of five that David founded. After leaving Martin in 1989, he formed Hawley Martin Partners, named after his advertising-man father and co-managed by his brother Steve, then Martin Branding Worldwide and BrandSync with his sons Rob and Dave Jr., and finally Martin Partners, again working with his brother.

In his spare time, he wrote two heavy-duty advertising books about his core specialty, Romancing The Brand: The Power of Advertising and How To Use It and Be The Brand: How To Find A Powerful Identity And Use It To Drive Sales, as well as two novels.

The Richmond Ad Club named him Advertising Person of the Year in 1969, and Virginia Commonwealth University inducted him into its Mass Communications Hall of Fame in 1987. He served as an American Association of Advertising Agencies board member and Eastern Region Governor.

David Martin died yesterday, after a short but intense battle with cancer.

He leaves behind his wife of 20 years, four children, nine grandchildren – and a gaping hole in the advertising industry.