Texas Department of Transportation’s anti-littering campaign celebrates twenty-five years of success
We have all heard the phrase “Don’t Mess with Texas,” but very few people outside of Texas know its origins. In 1985, the Texas Department of Transportation introduced the slogan as part of a statewide advertising campaign to reduce littering on Texas roadways. Twenty-five years later, the phrase has evolved into a symbol of state pride and is often referenced as one of the best word of mouth campaigns in United States history. While this success is great, there is one important question left unanswered: Did the campaign achieve the goal of reducing litter on Texas roadways?
A little more background: Back in the 1980s, Texas was considered one of the “dirtiest” states in the nation. The state was spending about $20 million annually to clean the highways. State officials agreed that something needed to be done and fast. The Texas Highway Commission launched an extensive public education campaign, highlighting the slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas.” They enlisted the help of iconic Texas celebrities, including Willie Nelson and Randy White, to spread the message. The phrase was prominently shown on road signs, television, radio, and print advertisements.
Did it work? “Don’t Mess with Texas” is a huge success story for Texas and the environment, in the short-term at least. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, within a couple of years, trash on Texas highways had been cut by 54 percent. By 1990, roadside litter was down 72 percent. However, in recent years, the amount of liter on Texas highways has increased. There are now about 1.1 billion pieces of trash along the state’s 80,000 miles of highway, costing $47 million annually to cleanup. To combat this increase, Texas is rebranding the campaign, hoping to reach newcomers and the millennial generation, who were statistically identified as the culprits.
Not Entirely Sold: I agree that “Don’t Mess with Texas” was a great achievement. However, I question how easily a similar advertising campaign could be mimicked in another state. I wonder if advertising is the most effective use of a state’s resources, especially since there are so many different variables involved.
What do you think?
Should public funds be used on advertising campaigns to accomplish policy goals, such as cleaning up the highways?
How effective do you think advertising campaigns would be in your community?