As Texans, we know that there is nothing better than the Lone Star state. We know it, and thanks to a variety of slogans, the rest of the country does too. People know that everything is bigger in Texas, and every knows not to mess with Texas, but do they know why? The saying, “Don’t mess with Texas,” asserts our strength, but this famous slogan has its own history. This slogan was created for a great cause, one as valiant as the people of our state.
A little over 30 years ago, Texas was allocating a huge amount of money to cleaning the highways across our state. By 1985, the state was spending nearly $20 million annually, to pick up the trash Texans were throwing out of their windows as they drove around the state. As a response, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) hired advertising agency GSD&M to create a slogan as part of an anti-littering campaign. The project was led by Mike Blair and GSD&M founder Tim McClure, and was targeting the 18-35-year-old male demographic. The team had some difficulty convincing TXDOT to adopt the slogan, who wanted to try a tamer slogan like, “Keep Texas Beautiful.” McClure and Blair knew an ordinary statement wouldn’t inspire anyone to resist throwing their garbage anywhere they pleased, so the campaign stuck with “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
The campaign launched in 1985, with bumper stickers as the vehicle for spreading the message. A year later, the campaign aired its first TV advertisement, and the slogan made a television debut. The ad ran during the 50th annual Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1st, of 1986 and featured Stevie Ray Vaughn singing the class “Eyes of Texas” with the slogan “Don’t Mess With Texas” added at the end. The TXDOT has worked with many other famous faces in “Don’t Mess With Texas” public service announcements, including Lance Armstrong, Willie Nelson, and even Chuck Norris.
The TXDOT, McClure and Blair didn’t know this slogan would become as ubiquitous as it is today, but it has become “an identity statement, a declaration of Texas swagger.” The slogan is federally trademarked, and the TXDOT has tried to enforce trademark rights with very little success. It is printed on all types of souvenir goods, spreading the message to others across the country, and maybe even internationally. The campaign was successful in reducing litter across Texan highways, but today, the slogan lives on in the spirit of Texan pride.