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Pat Martin, dead at 81, helped create iconic ‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’ ads

Pat Martin of Leo Burnett is credited with coining the iconic Virginia Slims ad slogan "You've Come a Long Way, Baby." | Provided photo

Pat Martin is credited with coining a famed advertising slogan that dressed up smoking in a kicky, 1960s-print pantsuit and captured the zeitgeist of the era’s women’s liberation movement.

Mr. Martin, who never smoked, developed the “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” campaign while working for Chicago’s Leo Burnett ad agency in 1968 to promote Virginia Slims cigarettes.

It became one of the best-known slogans in advertising history, a catchphrase that became part of popular culture.

Though it’s been criticized as patronizing and for linking liberation to nicotine consumption, “It was one of the absolutely great advertising campaigns, rooted firmly in the culture at the moment, where women were starting to break into all levels of society,” said Dick O’Brien, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Mr. Martin, who also worked on award-winning ads for United Airlines, died Aug. 21 in hospice care at St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights. He was 81 and had been in failing health, said his daughter Jean Hodges.

Pat Martin’s mind was full of ideas, but he kept his Leo Burnett office free of clutter. | Provided photo
Pat Martin’s mind was full of ideas, but he kept his Leo Burnett office free of clutter. | Provided photo

Bud Watts, a former executive creative director with Burnett, called him “a creative legend.”

“He was the best there ever was,” said Gary Bartholomew, a former ad director at the agency.

The ads contrasted sepia-toned images of women trapped in the domestic drudgery of past eras alongside supermodels like Beverly Johnson, Cristina Ferrare and Cheryl Tiegs who held up their Virginia Slims as if they were “torches of freedom” — the cigarettes puffed by debutantes in the 1929 New York City Easter Parade.

Virginia Slims became a big-money sponsor of women’s tennis, and “the birth of women’s professional tennis was launched,” according to the Women’s Tennis Association.

The story behind the ad is recounted in a Leo Burnett oral history. Hal Weinstein was a vice president in charge of the 1968 pitch for the brand, which at the time was called Silva Thins. Weinstein said the slogan came out of ideas that he, Mr. Martin and art director Fred Kurth were kicking around.

“Pat Martin came in to the office, and he said. . . . ‘Women never had any rights. They couldn’t vote. They couldn’t own property. They couldn’t smoke. Now. . . they can do whatever they want, and now we’ve got a cigarette just for them,’ ” Weinstein recalled. “I said, ‘That’s great!’ He said, ‘And I’ve got a great line to go with it, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ I came out of my chair to congratulate him.”

Though a team effort, Mr. Martin was the first to phrase it that way, according to Kurth: “He had it typed on a piece of paper: ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’ I said, ‘That’s it!’ ”

Some at the agency wanted the slogan to be “You’ve come a long way, m’lady,” according to Allyson Hunter, a former art director at Burnett.

But Mr. Martin thought ending it with “baby” made it hip and catchy, according to Watts.

Former Burnett colleague Carol H. Williams, founder of her own agency, said, “No matter how you think of cigarette consumption, what he did was make that brand come to the forefront.”

He grew up in Cleveland, where a teacher at St. Ignatius High School told him he had a way with words, according to his daughter Katie. Young Pat went on to Marquette University before joining Burnett in the 1960s. His colleagues there included John Hughes, who went on to direct classic teen movies including “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and comedy writer Don Novello, better known for playing “Father Guido Sarducci” on “Saturday Night Live.”

Mr. Martin also worked on ads for Smucker’s jams and Miller Lite.

“He was such a gracious mentor and didn’t really care what gender, race, age” co-workers were, Hunter said.

He was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. “I believe being sober 42 years is one of my dad’s greatest accomplishments,” said Katie Martin, “and he was a sponsor to many recovering alcoholics.”

In addition to his two daughters, Mr. Martin is survived by his son John, his former wife Deanna, sister Margaret Paulett, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Mr. Martin donated his body to science. Visitation is scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 20 until the start of an 11 a.m. memorial Mass at Infant Jesus of Prague parish in Flossmoor.

Adman Pat Martin. | Provided photo
Adman Pat Martin. | Provided photo