Case Study: Don’t Mess With Texas

2:50 — Cale Johnson introduces GSD&M‘s Founder, Tim McClure.

Not talking about Word of Mouth but Word of Mom … more about that later.

1985 Texas taxpayers paying millions of dollars to clean up highways, and cost was going up 15% per year. Department of Transportation put out an RFP for a campaign on reducing litter on highways. A week out, GSD&M didn’t know what their tagline would be. This was the era of “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” and the crying Indian.

Tim got up early for a walk one morning and noticed how not just the highways were littered but the roads around his house. He thought of something his mother always said. “Son, your room is a mess.”

He thought, that’s what we call litter in Texas–a mess. That’s when the slogan popped into his mind.

Created a couple of million of bumper stickers with the slogan, with no explanation. Young males 16-25 were picking them up and putting them on their trucks — and that was the key demographic responsible for the litter.

In 1986 at the Cotton Bowl, the favored team was Auburn, playing Texas A&M. In the middle of this game, the first commercial ran. It featured Stevie Ray Vaughn playing The Eyes of Texas, and at the end he spoke one line: Don’t Mess with Texas. Switchboard got calls asking them to play the “music video” again.

That started a series of TV spots that were very popular. Followed that with the Adopt a Highway program; first one was in Tyler, Texas, and it was adopted by a motorcycle group . That program spread nationally.

Product Extensions: University of Texas T-shirts. State decided they wanted to protect the line; GSD&M said to let it go viral.

Most popular slogan in Texas? “Remember the Alamo” came in second. “Don’t Mess with Texas” was first.

Elected America’s favorite advertising slogan.

Reduced litter by 76% — and all this happened pre-Internet.

1. Know your audience.

2. Speak your audience’s language.

3. Don’t mess with Mom.

Q Were your celebrities doing this pro-bono?

A Yes, all of them did. Once Stevie Ray did it, celebrities were lining up to do the spots. They donated their time to help Texas.

Q Are you sure it would have been easier with social media back in 1985?

A Not necessarily. Word of mouth was so strong. Might have spread faster with social media.

Q Advice for maintaining and managing brand identity of a campaign?

A It’s a difficult task. We didn’t really have to do that in 1985. Social media has made that harder. A movie will live or die five minutes into the first screening. Admitting your mistakes when they happen is important.

Q Curious about time period where you pushed out bumper stickers but before TV commercials.

A Think it was Texas mentality — kind of arrogant. Double meaning. Only 15-20 days between the two. Put the bumper stickers out at rest stops, gave them to truck dealers.





About Connie Reece

Now retired, Connie Reece has been a pioneer in the field of social media. In 2007, Connie created the Frozen Pea Fund, the first grassroots fundraising effort started solely on Twitter; her work was featured in best-selling author Shel Israel’s "Twitterville." Connie was a winner of the inaugural Texas Social Media Awards in 2009 and was profiled by AustinWoman magazine as one of the top five women in social media in Austin. In 2011, Connie won the Dewey Winburne Community Service Award at SXSW.

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