Iconic "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign gets millennial makeover


by MARK WIGGINS / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @MarkW_KVUE


Posted on April 2, 2013 at 7:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 2 at 8:01 PM

AUSTIN -- Ever since Texas music legend Stevie Ray Vaughan kicked things off in 1986, everyone from athletes to modern celebrities including Chuck Norris and Matthew McConaughey have issued a warning to would-be litterbugs:

"Don't Mess With Texas."

Accompanied by a dancing troupe of trash cans, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced Tuesday the iconic campaign is getting a makeover. The new ad, featuring a jingle performed by popular Texas musician Bob Schneider, lets the trash cans themselves do the talking.

The ad's creators say the decision to feature the red, white and blue striped cans is a throwback to the campaign's beginnings. In a new twist, the cans will sport a variety of tongue-in-cheek messages aimed to catch potential litterers' eyes.

"As we look to the iconic tourism attractions or places around Texas, we decided to give each of those cans a personality that would reflect its location," said Margo Richards, director of TxDOT's Travel Information Division.

The first will debut at San Antonio's Sea World, emblazoned with the phrase "Don't Trash Where We Splash." Another can with the phrase "Howdy" is planned near the famed Dixie Chicken bar in College Station.

A total of 56 designs are scheduled to be unveiled once a week for a planned year-long campaign.

The campaign will also make use of social media to promote each week's new design. The focus is on attracting the attention of younger Texans, often referred to as "millennials."

"Since 1998, our research indicates that the Texans that are 16 to 34-year-olds continue to be the worst litterers out there," said Richards. "So we need to target them and go after a medium that they'll pay attention to."
According to TxDOT, roughly 1.1 billion pieces of trash wind up alongside Texas roads each year. About 51 percent of the $1.9 million campaign will go to advertising, and part of the remainder will help buy 328 custom cans at a cost of $125 each.
The relaunch comes amid concern over the department's $13 billion in debt and requests for new funding to keep up with the state's aging infrastructure. Executive Director Phil Wilson defends the program he says is saving the state $4.7 million a year in cleanup costs.

"When you spend $2 million and you get a multiple off that, maybe two to three times as much, you're actually saving money by making an investment," said Wilson, who credits the popular campaign with drastically reducing roadside litter statewide since its debut.

State Rep. Larry Phillips (R-Sherman), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, adds that stopping potential litterers is also about safety.

"Often times when we have the cigarette blow out, it causes fires," said Phillips, referring to the suspected cause of a number of devastating wildfires in 2011. "We've had a lot of drought areas, and so it goes to those things."

Of course it only works if Texans get the message, one which has remained constant for nearly three decades: "Don't Mess With Texas."