Sticking it to Richmond: the origin and future of the “RVA” sticker

One of Richmond’s most iconic images continues to spring up around town: the RVA sticker has surprised even the creators with its popularity. How did the stickers come about, and how can you use them to extend your creativity?

Looking for RVA-branded gear? Click here to out our store: shop.rvanews.com »

There are a lot of bumper stickers out there. One in particular, however, sticks out more than most, and I’m sure you’ve seen it (you’ve probably seen it today). Not only do you find these stickers on car bumpers but also on rear windshields, backpacks, and even plastered all over bicycles. The letters are simple. The message, however, is far more comprehensive: RVA.

A bicycle “painted” in RVA stickers

These stickers are becoming more and more ubiquitous. Although just three letters, there’s a larger message behind them–one that all of Richmond is responsible for writing.

“Richmond has changed dramatically in the last twenty years,” said John Homs, owner of JHI, a creative services company located on Monument Avenue that specializes in branding, graphics, web design, among other things. Twenty-four years ago he moved to Richmond from New York City. He says that for years, many thought that Richmond was on the brink of becoming nationally recognized– the city that could. “Now we have become the city that can.”

Venture Richmond, an organization tasked with promoting the city’s downtown, wanted to move beyond the typical means of marketing and try a different approach. “We didn’t want it to be a logo and a tagline,” said Lucy Meade, Venture Richmond’s Director of Marketing and Development. “Logo and taglines don’t really work.”

She said that Venture Richmond turned to the Martin Agency and the  VCU Brandcenter, the award-winning, nationally-recognized advertising school in late 2009/early 2010. Students decided that the acronym RVA, which had already been in use by Richmonders, was a simple, catchy way to encapsulate the city as a whole. ‘RVA’ itself wasn’t enough, said Lucy. “The community has to be a part of it.” To help accomplish this, Venture Richmond collaborated with local businesses Elevation, The Hodges Partnership, West Cary Group, along with John Homs and the JHI team.

“We wanted it to be bottom-up,” said Homs. What he means is that for a successful branding initiative to work for a city, it can’t be foisted upon the people. It has to first simmer with them, gradually bubbling into a full boil.

JHI took the concept of RVA and decided that something simple like a sticker might be an effective way for Richmonders to brand the city themselves. “It needed to have the roots in the community,” said Homs. For the RVA sticker to be successful, however, it needed to go beyond being popular in the community. It needed what Homs calls the Popular Structure (i.e. the community), but also High-Level Structure (notable and large businesses), and the Political Structure (City Hall). It may surprise you that the latter of these came on board right away. “The Mayor completely embraced the idea. He said, Put it on everything.”

On February 3, 2011, the first printing of 5,000 RVA stickers arrived. “We had no idea how the demand for bumper stickers would develop,” said Lucy Meade. That question has since been answered. “It’s been insane.”

Where the RVA stickers are available

  • RVANews office
  • La Difference
  • Lift Coffee Shop
  • Sam Miller’s Warehouse
  • Visual Arts Center
  • Pibby’s Bike and Skate
  • Harvey’s Progressive Barbershop
  • YMCA Downtown
  • Happy Dog
  • Balance Bicycle Shop
  • Books, Bikes, and Beyond
  • Plantation Woods
  • Flying Colors

A total of 50,000 were printed and freely distributed in 2011, with close to half distributed during that year’s Folk Festival. A batch of 30,000 has already been printed this year. “It’s a powerful little identity,” said Homs of the sticker. “And that’s what we want.” Homs also sees the sticker representing more to people than a mere tool for decoration. He thinks it speaks to the city’s creativity. He speculates as to someone’s motivations for displaying the sticker: “It’s not a sticker, it’s my city’s flag. It’s my flag.”

One of the reasons for the sticker’s popularity is that it was designed for people to use in a variety of ways. The website RVA Creates allows people to upload images to be overlaid with the RVA typeface. “The logo is designed to facilitate that,” said Homs. “Use it. Do something with it,” he says to encourage people to embrace the RVA logo.

Lucy Meade said that “people were very intrigued by an open-source experiment.” She points out that NextMedia has a digital billboard on I-64 that displays the RVA logo, which they chose to do without direct advocacy by Venture Richmond. She also says that the phrase ‘RVA’ is used in common names (e.g. RVA on Ice, RVA Fireworks on the James, RVA Green, among others), and even in the URL of local business websites (Roosevelt, Balliceaux, the Mill, and others). “[We] never had any idea that it would be so popular.” She added that “It’s organically built this momentum…it’s become a source of pride. People are proud to be in Richmond.”

“It’s become accepted,” said John Homs.The challenge now, says Homs, is for Richmond to add to the brand, to further distinguish the city as an epicenter for creativity in the arts, business, education, and media. Embracing RVA is only half of the battle. “We can’t slow down,” said Homs. “Now we have to give it meaning.”

bicycle photo courtesy of RVA Creates

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

52 comments on Sticking it to Richmond: the origin and future of the “RVA” sticker

  1. I’m fairly new to Richmond. I noticed right away that there is a distinct community vibe and tremendous support for local businesses and the city’s offerings. I have absolutely have fallen in love.

  2. Will Weaver on said:

    I love this RVA sticker campaign and the whole idea behind it. Unfortunately, the list doesn’t tell me where the stickers are, only there they is. (oops! :P)

  3. @Will Weaver thanks for notifying us about the typo!

  4. joanna on said:

    Yes! I’ve been aching for one (or twelve) of these stickers ever since I saw them last year! I’m desperately on the prowl! Please keep us updated as to where we can obtain them!

  5. Donna on said:

    1. We need more places to find stickers.

    2. I wish they would make a version in metal. These would be for your bicycle–like the small ‘license plates’ that are made for kids bikes. I would use one for sure. It would be really fitting with our new initiatives for biking and the upcoming bike race. Thoughts? Who can I present this to?

  6. Stephen on said:

    You can get the stickers from Venture Richmond. 200 S 3RD ST.
    Or at various events around town.

  7. How much do these cost? I’d like to pick up a few.

  8. tbird on said:

    I picked some up at Shockoe Espresso.

  9. Visual Arts Center of Richmond has a bunch at the front desk.

  10. The stickers are FREE if anyone tries to sell them to you please let me know! @Donna we are definitely looking at other things to do with that RVA design. In the mean time get creative with the stickers. For example, they are perfect for a bike fender. Check out Venture Richmond’s Facebook page for some periodic inspiration on things you can do with them!

  11. Uh, hasn’t the abbreviation RVA been around a little longer than this?

    OK, different font, but RVA Mag’s first issue was in ’05 maybe, so RVA is not new.

    Glad the marketing guys caught up?

  12. @Alexander, re: other things to do with that RVA design

    What about sew-on/ iron-on “RVA” embroidered patches?

    They’d probably cost more to produce (and you may have to charge for them) but I’d be willing to shell out a few dollars for one.

    There are enough people in Richmond with messenger bags and/or denim jackets/vests that the embroidered patches could be a big hit..lol.

  13. Julie Blansett on said:

    it always kinda bugs me to see these, b/c my DH had the very same idea for an RVA bumper sticker almost 10 yrs ago but he didn’t follow up on it after he checked around to see how much they would cost to print. grrr.

  14. Is there anywhere we can order these online? I’m currently in Boston but would love to rep my home.

  15. Bradley on said:

    I’m with Stu on this one. The marketerd borrowed an expression that was already in the local zeitgeist and tossed it on a sticker.

    I’m impressed they got the city to sign off, but they didn’t brand so much as “realize” what had already existed for years.

  16. Greg Bilyeu on said:

    Stop by Shockoe Espresso for a great cup if joe. (They have RVA stickers too.)

  17. It does point out in the article that VCU Brandcenter students recognized that RVA was an already popular term for Richmond. At least the marketing people bestowed FREE stickers on our town.

    The first occasion I can remember seeing “RVA” was on t-shirts and flyers back in the 1990’s promoting Richmond’s hardcore music scene. Can anyone zero in on who might have done that?

  18. @chip: I think WRVA is from the twenties, which probably make it the oldest RVA out there.

  19. RVA before #RVA
    Our very first issue in 2005 …
    http://issuu.com/snooka/docs/webrvaissue1

  20. RVA Punk Nation!!!!!

  21. Greg on said:

    Cute stickers.. I live in NY.. we don’t have stickers, but we really don’t need them either.. ;)

  22. ORLY on said:

    I <3 NY

  23. Brenda on said:

    Where are your offices??? really really want to get a couple of stickers…can you update the list?

  24. @Brenda Our office is at: 1520 W. Main Street, Suite 102
    Richmond, VA 23220. Stop by anytime between 9am – 5pm to pick up a few!

  25. Jason G. on said:

    I like the concluding line where the marketing guy admits, “Now we have to give it meaning.” Thank you. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more superficial and inarticulate slogan. It’s pretty telling that the marketing guy isn’t sure why anyone would want to sport the sticker, instead proclaiming, “It’s not a sticker, it’s my city’s flag. It’s my flag.” That might explain my urge to burn them.

    Okay. I feel better now. Please carry on with sticker-palooza.

  26. Assing on said:

    The first time I saw one of these stickers on a car I said to myself, “Yeah. Richmond. We’re in Richmond. What about it sucka?”

  27. Mike on said:

    Believe it or not RVA….might want to sit down for this one….the City is actually accumulating some pride….finally. Not all is perfect, never will be, and there will always be doubting thomas, naysayers, and the legions of anonymous posters from “bigger” cities that get a thrill from taking jabs at “smaller” cities…I’ve been here 25 years transplanted from NYC area. I love it, always have, its the right size and balance of pros and cons, and I feel like I have scene a tremendous transformation in the past 5 years more-so than ever.

    The author correctly points out that RVA is not new (my memory says the Punk Rock scene pushed it before I moved here) but what is new is the message. A message that exists in so many other Cities but I feel has been void here until more recently…a message which I believe is City pride. Not pride in your own niche within the City, but pride in the City as a whole. RVA pride.

  28. Marshall Jones on said:

    So are stickers still available for pick up?

  29. Yep!

  30. mike jones on said:

    hey i like da stickers dats going around..however i have a question i designed a RVA design for myself dat i wanted to put on a shirt and a few ppl ask me was i selling da shirts…is there someone i can contact bout this matter…dont wanna get sued lol

  31. Tyler on said:

    What is the address to pick some of the stickers up.

  32. You can come by our office at 1520 W. Main Street, Suite #102

  33. Dave on said:

    Are these available online? My wife -recently moved from Richmond – would love one. Thanks!

  34. It looks like many agree that RVAROX, don’t you? In addition to getting your RVA sticker at one of the fine local merchants here, you can NOW get all things RVA at http://www.rvagear.com. Show your RVA pride today.

  35. You can also pick up a RVA sticker at Flying Colors located at 54 Plaza Drive Manakin VA 23103 between the hours of 9-4 Mon-Thurs. Please no phone calls just stop by.

  36. Esteban on said:

    Just scored some stickers at Shockoe Espresso earlier today (after checking all the shops in Carytown for about an hour). They have two left now.

  37. Is there a static version of the sticker that adheres to the inside of car rear window glass? As much as I love the sticker, I don’t put stickers on my car. If there is a static version, where can I get it?

  38. Frog on said:

    I’ve been to a few of the businesses listed in the article looking for the RVA sticker. I was told they were out but waiting on more. Any idea when more stickers might hit the streets?

  39. Sarah Janeski on said:

    I’m going out to order one today! I just moved to upstate New York, but I’d love to rep my hometown.

  40. where can i find the stickers. Is it possible to order some online

  41. Kris Chapin on said:

    all the locations listed for the stickers are far away from my part of town.. I live near Gaskins and Patterson… how else can I get stickers?

  42. Toney Q. Cobb on said:

    Love this campaign however I’ve noticed there is much talk in this article about this being “community-based, oriented” but there is a definite lack of availablity to the majority (black) populace. Harvey’s Progressive barber shop (an institution granted) is the only business commonly frequented by us that has the stickers. Should be more availability in northside, non-historic church hill, near west end, and certainly southside. If not, not sure what message Venture Richmond is trying to send. Thanks.

  43. Great campaign. FYI RVA is an initialism, not an acronym.

  44. Shannon on said:

    Are there any places where folks can pick up rainbow RVA stickers?

  45. Brian Crawford on said:

    Can we get an update on availability or create can you create an option to order these online? I drove to downtown and all 3 places I checked were completely out. I’m quite certain people would be willing to pay a few bucks to order them online. I spent more on gas than I would ordering them on your website. Thank you!

  46. richa on said:

    I would like to carry these stickers at my pharmacy for my customers please tell me how I can pick up a case? Thanks. Please email me with details.

  47. Monica Moore on said:

    I like the RVA sticker!! I would like to have more of them to give to friends and family.

  48. Ian McDonald on said:

    I have been working in Richmond for the past four weeks in the Carytown area and I would see these on everything. I got to take in a lot of things in your great city in my short time here. The RVA is just a great way to show the love of your city and making me want to know more. I got my RVA sticker from Plan 9 Records and would be happy to show some Richmond love back in my home town of Louisville Ky.

  49. Erin on said:

    Are the RVA number stickers still available around town? I just traded in my car and need a new one for my new car.

  50. Deana Rae* on said:

    can someone PLEASE tell me where to get the t shirts from???? I have seen one black with RVA in hot pink and I REALLY want a few of them would make AWSOME GIFTS please email me and tell where I can find them Thank you !!!

  51. Martha on said:

    Can anyone mail me a free RVA sticker?
    I don’t live in Richmond and that is the only place to get them?
    email me please and let me know.

  52. Ed Noel on said:

    Where can I purchase the original RVA auto decals?

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