Don't Mess with Texas was a slogan used on a campaign to reduce littering on Texas roadways by the Texas Department of Transportation, which supports a web page for the Don't Mess With Texas campaign and archive of ads and events. 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- to 35-year-old males, which was statistically shown to be the most likely to litter. While the slogan was not originally 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". Though the origin of the slogan is not well known outside of Texas, it appears on countless items of tourist souvenirs, the phrase is 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 slogan is the title of the book, Don't Mess With Texas: The Story Behind the Legend.
In 2011 the result of a public vote for the best "Don't Mess with Texas" ad over the last 25 was revealed, the winner was one created by the Commemorative Air Force (then called the Confederate Air Force). The ad involved the CAF's Boeing B-17 "Sentimental Journey" pursuing and retaliating against a truck that threw trash out the window.
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.' If not for the vision of Don Clark, the then Director of Travel and Information Division of the Texas Highway Department, the slogan would have never been used. Clark went ahead with the slogan without the support of the TXDOT administrators. After the first televised ad with Stevie Ray Vaughn aired, Clark jokes that he went to work the next day and was unsure if he would be fired. TXDOT decided to ask the public for comment and there was a resounding positive result. "
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:
In a 12-year period over 26 television spots appeared.
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.
Since 2000, TXDOT has contacted over 100 companies and organizations 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.