Don't Mess with Texas
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. 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. 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, but has had very limited success. The phrase "Don't Mess with Texas" is a frequently cited example of pride in Texas culture.
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."
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.'"
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. 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:
- Lance Armstrong
- Asleep at the Wheel
- Erykah Badu
- Marcia Ball
- Joe "King" Carrasco
- Johnny Dee and the Rocket 88's
- Joe Ely
- The Fabulous Thunderbirds
- George Foreman
- Tish Hinojosa
- Los Lonely Boys
- Jennifer Love Hewitt
- Lyle Lovett
- Billy Mays
- Matthew McConaughey
- Warren Moon
- Willie Nelson
- Andy Pettitte
- LeAnn Rimes
- Shamu & the Texas Tuxedos
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Jerry Jeff Walker
- George Strait
- Tiffany Blackgrove
- Owen Wilson
- Chuck Norris
In a 12 year period over 26 television spots appeared.
- A Texas-based company in Alabama used the slogan for a billboard campaign in February 2010
- The University of Texas at Austin agreed to stop selling t-shirts with the slogan after being contacted by the Texas Department of Transportation.
- 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.
References in popular culture
- 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart promoted http://www.nymiddlefingertx.com, a video with Lewis Black that was 'paid for by New Yorkers who think Texas blows'. In the video Black states "Don'tt mess with Texas? No! Don't fuck with New York."
- Tim McClure and Roy Spence, Don't Mess with Texas: The Story Behind the Legend, Idea City Press, 2006, 15.
- "No Messing Around With Texas' Slogan". Los Angeles Times. 2004-07-06. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- Curry, Matt. "Texas says don't mess with anti-litter slogan". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- 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.
- Grinberg, Emanuella. "Why there's no messing with Texas." CNN. July 1, 2011. 1. Retrieved on July 3, 2011.
- Grinberg, Emanuella. "Why there's no messing with Texas." CNN. July 1, 2011. 2. Retrieved on July 3, 2011.
- "Department of Transportation: 'Don't mess with our slogan'". Lubbock Online. 2004-06-07. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- "Texas-themed billboards get Crimson Tide update". The Tuscaloosa News. 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- "'Don't mess' with this Texas slogan". MSNBC. 2004-06-06. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- "BART - Lone Texas Rangers fan makes good on his BART bet by serenading riders". Bart.gov. Retrieved 2011-03-20.
- 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.
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