Don't Mess with Texas

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The popular road sign seen on Texas highways.
The crest for the submarine USS Texas. The phrase "Don't Mess with Texas!" can be seen on the lower half of the crest.

The phrase Don't Mess with Texas is a trademark of the Texas Department of Transportation, which began as part of a statewide advertising campaign started in 1986. The intention behind the Don't Mess with Texas campaign was to reduce littering on Texas roadways and has garnered statewide attention.

The phrase "Don't Mess with Texas" was prominently shown on road signs on major highways, television, radio and in print advertisements. The campaign is credited with reducing litter on Texas highways roughly 72% between 1986 and 1990.[1] The campaign's target market was 18-35 year old males, which was statistically shown to be the most likely to litter. While the slogan was originally not intended to become a statewide cultural icon, it did.

Beyond its immediate role in reducing litter, the slogan became a Texas cultural phenomenon and the slogan has been popularly appropriated by Texans. The phrase has become "an identity statement, a declaration of Texas swagger".[2] Though the origin of the slogan is not well known outside of Texas, it appears on countless items of tourist souvenirs, the phrase is actually a federally registered trademark; the department has tried at times to enforce its trademark rights with cease and desist letters,[3] but has had very limited success. The slogan is the title of the book, Don’t Mess With Texas: The Story Behind the Legend.


"Don't Mess with Texas" has been awarded a plaque on the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame and a place in the Advertising Hall of Fame, a distinction given to only two slogans annually.[4]

"Don't Mess with Texas" is also the official motto of the Virginia-class submarine USS Texas.

History[edit]

In 1985 the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) asked Mike Blair and Tim McClure of GSD&M to create a slogan for an anti-littering campaign. At the time the state of Texas spent about $20 million annually to clean litter from highways. McClure said that "bubbas in pickup trucks" who regularly littered beer cans and other items out of vehicle windows and ordinary Texans who believed that littering was a "God-given right" were targets of the advertising campaign. McClure said that he created the slogan when he saw the garbage while walking near his house. Emanuella Grinberg of CNN said that McClure had "an eleventh hour "aha" moment" when, after looking at the trash, he recalled his mother telling him that his room was messy. "McClure said It occurred to me that the only time I'd heard the word litter was in reference to dogs. Mess seemed like it would resonate better."[5]

The creators initially had difficulty convincing TXDOT to adopt the slogan. The creators said that the administrators were "buzz-cutted, conservative kind of characters." The creators joked that the board members' average age was 107. McClure recalled that "The crowd was sprinkled with 'Keep America Beautiful' and 'Keep Texas Beautiful' folks, and our audience is 18-to-24 young males." McClure added that "The 'Keep Texas Beautiful' lady said, 'Can we at least say please?' I said, 'No ma'am, you cannot use the line if you put please in front of it.'"[6]

The campaign began in 1985 with a series of bumper stickers. In 1986 the slogan premiered its first television advertisement, featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan, at the 50th Annual Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 1986, singing the "Eyes of Texas" with the line "Don't Mess with Texas" added at the end of the song.[5] Since then, numerous musicians, athletes, celebrities and other famous Texans have appeared in "Don't Mess with Texas" radio and television public service announcements, including:

In a 12 year period over 26 television spots appeared.[5]\

Due to the budget cuts of the Great Recession, TxDOT has expanded the use of the licence to sell "Don't Mess With Texas" related souvenirs in "state run rest areas, and travel information centers" in order to fill in its budget gaps. Until recently, the organization was forbidden to do so due to federal regulations. [7]

Unauthorized use of the trademark[edit]

Since 2000, TXDOT has contacted over 100 companies and organization with cease and desist letters regarding the unauthorized use of the trademark phrase. State officials claim that protecting the trademark helps the state preserve the slogan's anti-littering message.[2]

  • A Texas-based company in Alabama used the slogan for a billboard campaign in February 2010[8]
  • The University of Texas at Austin agreed to stop selling t-shirts with the slogan after being contacted by the Texas Department of Transportation.[9]
  • The department attempted to block the Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League from the sale of "Don't Mess With Texas Women" T-shirts, but was unsuccessful.[10]
  • The author Christie Craig published a romance novel originally titled Don't Mess with Texas. After legal actions, the title was changed to Only in Texas.[2]

References in popular culture[edit]

  • In The Simpsons 17th season episode "The Italian Bob", Homer waves the American flag while yelling "Don't mess with Texas" at the luggage arrival in the Italian airport, contrasting Lisa's choice of hiding her citizenship.
  • After the Texas Rangers lost the 2010 World Series to the San Francisco Giants, Gary Thomas, President and Executive Director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) lost his bet and had to fly to the San Francisco Bay Area and serenade public transit patrons. Thomas was quoted as saying, "You know there's a saying that goes, 'Don't mess with Texas. Well DART, don't mess with BART."[11]
  • In the first trailer for Brothers in Arms: Furious 4, "Don't mess with Texas" is used as a one-liner by Crockett, one of the characters, after killing a Wehrmacht soldier and applying a branding iron in the shape of Texas to his forehead.[citation needed]
  • In Stephen King's 11/22/63, p,. 299, the book's narrator anachronistically mentions seeing "...Lone Star State flags embossed with the words DON'T MESS WITH TEXAS" when he travels back in time to the early 1960s in an attempt to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
  • In the music video for "I'm with Stupid" by American nu metal/industrial metal band Static-X, a blonde woman with a shovel can be seen wearing a "Don't Mess With Texas" shirt.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tim McClure and Roy Spence, Don't Mess with Texas: The Story Behind the Legend, Idea City Press, 2006, 15.
  2. ^ a b c d Fernandez, Manny (14 September 2013). "Not to Be, Um, Trifled With, Texas Guards Its Slogans". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "No Messing Around With Texas' Slogan". Los Angeles Times. 2004-07-06. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  4. ^ Rockwell, Lilly (29 September 2006). "'Don't Mess with Texas' named top ad slogan". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on 2006-10-10. Retrieved 2006-09-30. 
  5. ^ a b c Grinberg, Emanuella. "Why there's no messing with Texas." CNN. July 1, 2011. 1. Retrieved on July 3, 2011.
  6. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella. "Why there's no messing with Texas." CNN. July 1, 2011. 2. Retrieved on July 3, 2011.
  7. ^ Batheja, Aman (23 September 2013). "TxDOT Hoping ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ Provides More Cash". San Marcos Mercury. Retrieved 29 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Texas-themed billboards get Crimson Tide update". The Tuscaloosa News. 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  9. ^ "'Don't mess' with this Texas slogan". MSNBC. 2004-06-06. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  10. ^ Curry, Matt. "Texas says don't mess with anti-litter slogan". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 
  11. ^ "BART - Lone Texas Rangers fan makes good on his BART bet by serenading riders". Bart.gov. Retrieved 2011-03-20. 

Further reading[edit]

  • McClure, Tim and Spence, Roy. Don't Mess with Texas: The Story Behind the Legend. Idea City Press, 2006.
  • Clemons, Leigh. Branding Texas: performing culture in the Lone Star State. University of Texas Press, 2000.

External links[edit]