January 03, 2006
"Don't Mess With Texas" turns 20

Has it really been 20 years since the Don't Mess With Texas campaign first rolled out? Yes, it has, and to celebrate there will be a new series of ads with new celebrities.

The slogan has all but become the state motto, emblazoned on countless T-shirts and coffee mugs, chanted by liberals and conservatives alike when they disagree with the Legislature and invoked by then-Gov. George W. Bush when he faced criticism on the presidential campaign trail.

Because the Texas Department of Transportation has used different methods of counting litter throughout the years, it isn't possible to say how much littering has decreased since the campaign began, said Doris Howdeshell, director of the department's travel division.

But every time a study is done, less litter is found, she said. A study released earlier this month found 827 million pieces of litter had accumulated on Texas roadways in 2005, compared with 1.25 billion in 2001 — a 33 percent decrease.


The ad campaign that begins on Monday reintroduces celebrities and adds the phrase "Real Texans don't litter." Four different public service announcements will air throughout the state.

Howdeshell hopes the new commercials remind people about the true message behind "Don't Mess with Texas." The department registered the slogan as a trademark in 2000 and has stepped up enforcement to protect it, sending out cease-and-desist letters to groups such as the University of Texas, which sold T-shirts bearing the phrase.

While that led to some ribbing by Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart, Howdeshell said it's important for people to know "Don't Mess with Texas" is more than a macho motto.

"We're proud the campaign has produced such good results for Texas, and the fact that it's become a part of pop culture is just an added bonus," she said. "We just want to make sure everyone knows 'Don't Mess with Texas' means don't litter."

A later version of this story explains the reason for this.

Despite the decline in litter, however, recent studies reveal that about 55 percent of 1,200 Texans surveyed in October admitted to littering and most of them were under the age of 25, according to the department.

The survey also revealed that though most Texans have heard the slogan "Don't Mess with Texas," only 71 percent know that it means "don't litter."

I can believe that. Link via Houstonist, who has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 03, 2006 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

My inspiration "is more than a macho motto?" I might have to rethink my pseudonym.

Posted by: Don't Mess w/ Pink on January 3, 2006 12:56 PM

The department registered the slogan as a trademark in 2000 and has stepped up enforcement to protect it, sending out cease-and-desist letters to groups such as the University of Texas, which sold T-shirts bearing the phrase.

Here is an excerpt from an MSNBC news article on TxDOT's actions:

In the past year, the agency has sent 23 cease-and-desist letters warning merchandisers against unauthorized use of the federally registered trademark.

While no one has been sued, the Texas attorney general's office is reviewing cases in which merchandisers have refused to comply, said Jennifer Soldano, a Transportation Department lawyer.

But the action may be too little, too late, said Kae McLaughlin of the Texas Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which has been asked to stop selling its "Don't Mess With Texas Women" T-shirts.

"It's such a commonly used phrase that it's rather absurd to think they're going to be able to corral this back in," McLaughlin said.

The slogan was created by an Austin advertising firm in 1986, and made its television premiere during the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1987. The anti-litter campaign created a buzz, with high profile Texans like country singer Willie Nelson and boxer George Foreman.

The Transportation Department only recently stepped up enforcement to protect its trademark, registered in 2000.

Trademark and patent lawyer Ted Stevenson said the department would have a difficult time showing that consumers were confusing the abortion-rights T-shirts with its anti-litter campaign. However, the state could claim its message is being diluted by the slogan's unauthorized uses.

Emphasis added. Naturally, it raised my eyebrow that TxDOT would go after TARAL - especially considering the latter was using a parody of the slogan, rather than the slogan itself. Shades of Fox News v. Franken! You don't suppose their motivation might've had more to do with abortion politics than with preserving the slogan's anti-littering message, do you?

Posted by: Mathwiz on January 3, 2006 2:04 PM

ironic really...

a protected anti-littering slogan
in a state unprotected
with "voluntary" environmental laws
and increasing pollution

government by PR again...

Posted by: Support Science to Reverse Global Warming, if still possible on January 6, 2006 9:39 AM