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The History of Don’t Mess with Texas

The History of Don’t Mess with Texas

The History of Don’t Mess with Texas

To understand the significance of the phrase "Don't mess with Texas," one has to understand its history. The slogan has gained popularity all over the world, and people often wonder how it came into being. Here are some interesting facts about "Don't mess with Texas."

The History of the logo "Don't mess with Texas" is a popular phrase used in a series of commercials created in 1986 by Austin, Texas advertising agency GSD&M. The agency's employees voted it among the ten best local ads that year. In 1987, the Tourism Division of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) modified the ad slightly to incorporate it into a tourism advertising campaign for the state.

If by any chance you have ever seen the movie "Armageddon" starring Bruce Willis, then you know that "Don't mess with Texas" is a very important phrase. I'm not talking about the definition of "mess" here; trust me, it's way more serious than that! Let me explain its importance to you by telling you how it came into existence.

The True Meaning of "Don't Mess with Texas."

At the time of its creation, "Don't mess with Texas" was one of the cheapest slogans ever created by an advertising agency. A made-up call to arms that depicted Texans as rough, tough men and women who wouldn't tolerate someone messing with their state is commonly thought to have been banned before any real-life campaigns could be run with it.

“Don’t mess with Texas” is a phrase used to evoke pride in Texans and disdain from those outside the Lone Star State. Although this phrase stirs the emotion of every Texan, it is not trademarked by the government. It was first used as an anti-littering slogan but has evolved into one of the most popular slogans for products and packaging, even though it is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

The slogan is most commonly used in response to criticism or perceived slights but also has applications as a rallying cry, making it especially popular with sports teams. The phrase is meant to convey that rural Texans are tougher than you, although the fact that the "Don't mess…" tag line was created by an ad agency probably gives you the advantage in any bout of machismo. Still, if anyone tells you not to mess with Texas, they are totally serious.

Don't mess with Texas

Keep California Beautiful

The phrase is not even of Texan origin. It was lifted from an ad campaign of Keep California Beautiful, which used it to discourage Californians from tossing trash out of their cars. The Keep California Beautiful campaign was supported by the state’s Department of Transportation, which regionalized the message (“Don’t mess with Texas” for Texas; “Don’t mess with Oregon” for Oregon) and trademarked it in 1989 for use in TxDOT’s anti-littering campaign.

Texas Department of Transportation

The Texas Department of Transportation had a catastrophe on its hands in the late 1980s. It was spending $20 million per year on trash collection, which was increasing by around 17% year over year. The highways were filled with trash, and everything appeared to be getting worse - after all, everything is bigger in Texas. As a result, the department requested a marketing campaign to address the garbage.

This story began in the early 1980s as a part of a campaign to increase highway worker safety. The slogan, "Don't mess with Texas works," was inspired by the state's highway construction workers who were having some trouble with littering from road work sites. The phrase was used as a rallying cry for those workers as they plied their breakfast taco-laden trade. It was adopted by the commission at the behest of a marketing firm who believed that this slogan could be instrumental in getting state funding for a new anti-littering campaign. The slogan won, and the TV commercial featuring this new piece of Texan moxie became a fixture of Texas culture from 1980-1985.

Impact on the Environment

Littering is the action of intentionally leaving behind and dumping trash in places other than a bin or trash can. Even though littering is not considered as one of the most harmful acts, the consequences may seem minimal to some, it impacts our environment, and we all must do our share to keep Mother Earth clean and safe.

Trash pollutes freshwater, land, and marine habitats all over the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 250 million tons of trash is generated in the U.S. every year. Of that staggering figure, only 20% ends up in recycling bins; nearly 80 percent ends up in landfills or incinerators (where it makes the air even dirtier).

The environmental effects of littering are serious and harmful for nature and human beings. Littering is a big social and environmental problem all over the world. It is the one issue that goes unanswered and unnoticed, but also quite ignored. Everywhere we go, we see someone throwing something on the floor or the roadside, and it's always accompanied by a bad odor and an irritating environment.

Creation of the Slogan

Without a clever concept to offer, Tim McClure and his colleagues at Austin-based advertising agency GSD&M were just weeks away from the deadline. McClure noticed the rubbish in his neighborhood on an early morning walk and thought to himself, "This is a mess," just like his mother used to say about his home bedroom. That's when it dawned on him that his team was approaching the situation incorrectly. Texans don't talk about "litter" in their daily lives, but they do say "mess," and just like that, "Don't mess with Texas" was created.

This new motto was “Don’t mess with Texas,” and TxDOT printed bumper stickers bearing this inscription. The agency distributed these bumper stickers to local businesses, including restaurants and truck stops frequented by people who usually get behind the wheel after several drinks. McClure knew his audience; these folks were loath to get in trouble with the law and likely would be too embarrassed to flaunt or talk about their behavior.

First Television Advertisement (1986)

On New Year's Day, 1986, during the 50th annual Cotton Bowl television broadcast, the campaign was officially launched. In that year's game, which was hosted in Dallas as usual, Texas A&M defeated Auburn and its Heisman Trophy-winning running back, Bo Jackson. Stevie Ray Vaughan, a Texas blues musician strumming a guitar in front of a large Texas flag at the Austin City Limits studio, was featured in an advertisement.

Tim McClure’s Statement

The team's creative director inspired McClure to think globally. What would stop litter from dumping into the ocean? The "Don't mess with Texas" concept came as a result of his brainstorm. In 1989, 10 people from GSD&M went to New York City to present their idea to the Keep America Beautiful Inc. committee, who voted unanimously for it.

Longest-running Anti-Litter Ad Campaign

And thus, "Don't Mess with Texas" was born. Today it's the longest-running sustained anti-litter advertising campaign in America and one of the longest-running campaigns of its kind. To remind people to take pride in their state, the campaign has featured well-known Texans like Willie Nelson and Lyndon B. Johnson; launched television commercials with famous taglines like "Don't mess with Texas. Period"; and been so successful it's been adopted by other states from coast to coast. We think it's a story worth telling - as long as we don't have to pick up after you!

Statement of George W. Bush

He had been elected President of the United States, and the message was clear. What most viewers didn't realize was that Bush and Bullock had an interesting history that they were most likely unaware of themselves: they both graduated from Yale University in 1968, and they enrolled in the same basic economics class taught by Thomas Sowell.

In taking charge of the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, George W. Bush made a pitch for bipartisanship by commemorating Bob Bullock, the former Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Texas who had recently passed away. " I know he is with me in spirit,” Bush told the crowd, “in saying to those who would malign our state for political gain: Don't mess with Texas.”

Impact of the Slogan

With a motto of "Don't mess with Texas," the TxDOT Department of Transportation launched a campaign that had a major impact. Instead of just asking people not to litter, the department took a hands-on approach. In the early years, the campaign included more than 1,500 cleanups conducted by highway department employees. "Don't Mess with Texas" was even used in TV commercials featuring famous Texans, including Dale Evans and Raquel Welch, holding a sign with a white trash bag on it. The slogan even entered pop culture, making its way into songs and becoming associated with the NBA's Houston Rockets team.

What McClure discovered was that many people recognized the slogan from bumper stickers they'd seen all over the state, but no one seemed to know its true purpose. It's a simple reminder that the message works best when it comes from Texans themselves and not a government program. While their efforts have not led to a significant decrease in littering, the campaign has raised awareness of the problem and had a positive impact on educating Texas children about their state, its people, and its land.

The Slogan Became a Part of Pop Culture

No matter where you’re from, we can all agree on one thing - don’t mess with Texas. That includes the government. The Texas Department of Transportation has prohibited the people, organizations, companies, and artists from using the term in ways that are not in keeping with the anti-littering message.

Texas in History

Tim McClure describes it as, "Texas is not only a state of mind, it's a state of heart, state of the soul. There's a sense of greater than life here... People here are tough and rugged but know how to have a good time."

Trademark Issues That Arose

  1. Unfair Use of The Slogan by Company

A Texas highway official argued in a Tuscaloosa News report that billboards that say "Don't Mess with Texas" and have cropped up across northwest Alabama violate trademark laws because they exploit a Texas Department of Transportation anti-littering campaign slogan without permission.

  1. Malaysian Government

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Idris Haron took severe steps in addition to the existing efforts. "This is our new battle cry to show that we are serious in ensuring cleanliness.

"So, we introduced the slogan 'Don't Mess with Melaka' to instill a love for cleanliness among the people," he said.

They claimed that the copyright claim was baseless.

  1. The University of Texas at Austin

After being contacted by the Transportation Department, the University of Texas agreed to stop selling T-shirts with the popular saying.

  1. Texas-based Book Stores

The novel's cover, which is based on the famous Texas "Don't Mess with Texas" anti-littering campaign poster and features a sensual looking woman holding a pack of chewing gum that's on the verge of melting, features images that TxDOT says "strongly resemble" the "Don't mess with Texas" mark.

The People of the State of Texas and which will forever remain, one and inseparable!” that marries beauty and elegance with precision-engineered functionality. Thanks to the Texas Department of Transportation, those words can now be applied to Don't Mess with Texas, a romance novel.


"Don't Mess with Texas" is a phrase used to promote: the environment, ecology, wildlife preservation, and anti-littering. Due to its tremendous promotional success since 1986, the slogan has been extended to other "Don't mess with [state]" formats.





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