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The Surprising Origins of "Don't Mess With Texas"

Stashed in: Brands!, Marketing!, Texas, Marketing, Freakonomics

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It may have surprised Americans outside Texas to know that Bush had just quoted an anti-litter campaign. Although “Don’t mess with Texas” sounds like a creation of pop culture or the rallying cry of Texas sports fans, the phrase is a federally registered trademark of the Texas Department of Transportation. Since 1985, the slogan has accompanied highway signs announcing littering fines and advertisements encouraging Texans to keep their roadways clean.

The most popular thing ever produced by bureaucrats was the creation of GSD&M, an Austin-based ad agency hired by the Texas Department of Transportation (then called the State Department of Highways) to develop a new ad campaign. Keeping Texas’s roadways clean had become a $20 million enterprise, so the DoT wanted GSD&M to convince the young men responsible for the majority of litter -- or “bubbas in pickup trucks” as the agency’s co-founder Tim McClure called them -- to stop throwing beer bottles out the window.

It's a brilliant slogan -- it has confidence, swagger, and enables Texans to feel patriotic.

But it is also quite TEXAS.

Can you imagine "don't mess with California" or even "don't mess with Florida"? No way.

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