It’s been 50 years since the iconic “Virginia is for Lovers” slogan came to be, created in 1969 by Richmond-based ad agency Martin & Woltz. Emblazoned upon T-shirts, bumper stickers, even license plates, the simple phrase is one of the most successful tourism campaigns ever. The slogan itself was inducted into the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame on Sept. 21, 2009, and Forbes named it one of the top 10 tourism marketing campaigns of all time.
Still going strong all these years later, the Virginia Tourism Corporation officially kicks off the “50 Years of Love” celebration on June 21. Across the state, local tourism bureaus will commemorate the anniversary with festivals, food, fun and, of course, more LOVE letters. The oversized LOVE signs began turning up at welcome centers across the state and along major highways in 2013 as a way to bring “Virginia is for Lovers” to life—and it’s been a social media hit ever since.
Soon after the first signs debuted (the simple white ones), they began to get more innovative and colorful, thanks in part to a reimbursement program created by the state tourism office. Anyone with a creative idea can design and build a public LOVE artwork installation (hence the official name, LOVEworks), then apply to get back up to $1,500.
“Virginia is for Lovers is about doing the things you love to do on vacation with the people you love most,” says Rita McClenny, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation. “The LOVEworks capture that idea perfectly, and they have become special places for travelers, as well as the local communities.”
More than 130 Instagram-worthy (and road trip-worthy) LOVEworks are listed on the state tourism website and can be found across Virginia. Among them, a colorful wine-themed LOVEworks, is in downtown Purcellville, and one made entirely of recycled bicycle parts stands just steps from the popular W&OD Trail in Leesburg.
As the number of LOVEworks grows, so too does the interest in capturing and sharing the signs on Instagram, maybe due in part to The FloYos. Mandi Flowers-Yost and Matt Yost, also known as The FloYos on Instagram (@MattAndMandiKindOfLove), have been snapping and socializing LOVEworks signs since 2017.
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On their way home from vacation that year, The FloYos photographed their first LOVEworks at a welcome center and they were hooked. The rest, as they say, is history. Visiting signs has become an adventure. Maybe even an obsession, given the hours of research that go into tracking down LOVEworks. They’ve been known to pack as many as 10 or 15 in a weekend.
So far, The FloYos have snapped and shared 115 of the LOVEworks signs on Instagram, including many that are not officially cataloged by the state. “I use social media to track down the signs,” says Flowers-Yost. “I like to create theme weekends built around LOVEworks signs, like waterfall hikes or history, maybe wineries or breweries.”
New signs pop up all the time and can be found on Instagram by searching for #LoveVA, the state’s official hashtag, as well as #VALOVEworks. “Our goal is to hit 200 by the end of the year,” she adds. “After we hit Virginia, we want to see LOVE signs in other states. California has a lot of them too. We want to branch out more.”
Flowers-Yost says she even has her own “circle of love.” As in, she’s close with several other families in the state on the same quest, including mother-daughter duos in Warrenton and Chesapeake. On Instagram, they like to tag each other to show off their LOVEworks finds.
For the couple, LOVEworks signs have become both a passion and a family affair, including their daughters, 21-year-old Lili and 9-year-old Savannah, as often as they can on their journey. They are also putting the final touches on their own LOVEworks sign.
They made the sign in hopes of displaying it in Valentines, Virginia, a small town in Southern Virginia, just minutes from the North Carolina border. Each February, travelers come from near and far for a special heart-shaped cancellation stamp from Valentines. Matt and Mandi’s goal is to unveil the new love-themed LOVEworks in early 2020, just ahead of Valentine’s Day.
As part of the 50th celebration, the Northern Virginia region will welcome additional LOVEworks signs to the mix—and The FloYos will be right there to spread the love on Instagram. Says Flowers-Yost, “We’re trying to bring some love into Northern Virginia.”
This post originally appeared in our June 2019 issue.