In 1985, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) asked for help in controlling their litter problem. Back then, people just didn’t care as much about the environment, let alone the aesthetics of their surroundings. At the time, the State of Texas spent about $20 million per year cleaning up litter from highways. So, TxDOT sought to rectify the problem and remind people to take pride in their state and to keep it clean. They contracted with a marketing agency, GSD&M, to create a slogan for an anti-littering campaign.
One of the partners of the firm, Tim McClure said that “bubbas in pickup trucks” regularly littered beer cans and other items out of vehicle windows. He surmised that many Texans believed it was their “God-given right” to litter. They became the target of the advertising campaign. McClure’s team worked for months trying to capture the right messaging. One day, McClure had an eleventh-hour ‘aha’ moment when he saw garbage while taking a walk near his home. He recalled that during his childhood, his mother would constantly remind him to clean up his room, it was such a mess! And, he concluded that the only time he really heard the word ‘litter’ in normal life was in reference to dogs and cats. The word ‘mess’, he felt, would resonate better. And with that, the slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas” was born.
Upon presenting the slogan and anti-littering campaign to the administrators of TxDOT, it was not well received. GSD&M joked that the average age of the board members was 107. McClure recalled, “The crowd was sprinkled with “Keep Texas Beautiful” folks, but our target audience of our campaign was 18 to 24 year old males. One lady said for the “Keep Texas Beautiful” idea, could we at least say please?” McClure responded, “No ma’am, you cannot use the line if you put ‘please’ in front of it.” But one man, Don Clark, the then Director of Travel and Information Division of the Texas Highway Department, saw promise in McClure’s slogan. In a gutsy move, Clark went ahead with the “Don’t Mess with Texas” slogan without the support of the TxDOT administrators. In 1986, after the first televised ad, Clark joked 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.
In the years following, tons of litter and millions of dollars were saved from being tossed along the roadways of Texas. And, over time, the slogan has taken on a double meaning. The first being, don’t litter in our state, and the second being, don’t mess with us because we’re card carrying, gun owning, cowboys that won’t put up with nuthin’!
What are other slogans and taglines that are memorable to you? I immediately think of Nike’s “Just Do It.” Or MasterCard’s “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” How about the super annoying Verizon slogan “Can you hear me now? Good.”
For years, our firm’s tagline has been “Invest Wisely.” It’s a nod to the fact that many investors make huge behavioral mistakes. Our desire is to help investors mitigate those mistakes and to ‘invest wisely.’ For my book, the subtitle is “Find Meaning, Live with Purpose and Leave a Legacy”. A very beautifully crafted slogan (if I do say so myself) that encapsulates what my book is really about. And for me personally, my tagline has been “The Best Is Ahead.” It helps me navigate those times when life and situations seem to have me down, I’m reminded to focus forward and not give up.
What about you? Do you have a tagline or slogan that you use to help you through the hard times? If not, you can borrow mine. Some people use Bible verses or faith-based quotes to help them through. Either way, in life, you need something to remind you not to litter…not to allow the head trash to pile up so high that it clogs out right thinking. You were made on purpose, for a purpose. Life’s too short to let the mess overwhelm you. Keep it clean. Keep it above the line. Live your purpose today.
Oh…that slogan? Ya, the one about Don’t Mess with Texas? In 2008, during the Great Financial Crisis, due to budget cuts at the TxDOT, they chose to expand the use of the license to sell the phrase to related souvenirs and state-run rest areas and travel centers in order to help fill its budget gaps. Until that time, federal regulations prevented them from making money on the slogan. In 2022, Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers became the new face of the slogan with many PSAs recirculating throughout the State of Texas even to this day.
So, what’s your slogan? What phrase will help you through the next battle you encounter. Take the time to think that through. It will prove invaluable the next time you need some motivation. And in the meantime…Don’t Mess with Texas!