30 years of Don't Mess with Texas

A local connection to the hugely successful ad campaign
The "Don't Mess with Texas" advertising campaign reduced litter by an astonishing 72 percent over time. — From "The Story Behind the Legend: Don't Mess with Texas."

Ask anyone in marketing what the most successful advertising campaign in Texas has been and “Don’t mess with Texas” is bound to be at or near the top.

The campaign, the brainchild of GSD&M’s co-founder Tim McClure and sold by partner Roy Spence, connected with Texans of every stripe. It was a simple, forthright statement that appealed a lot to the state’s pride and a little bit to our bravado. It wasn’t preachy or too academic, and average Texans hearing the message didn’t feel they were being talked down to.

Locally, friend Lindy Segall was a part of the growth of that campaign. Lindy moved here from the capitol city and has dived into civic works. Like that campaign, he always seeks the betterment of whatever he takes on. Lindy was hired by Spence, the legend in marketing circles, to coach GSD&M’s new business pitch teams.

“Roy was from Brownwood, Texas, Tim from Corsicana (the Fruitcake Capital of Texas). The partners graduated from UT and started the agency from scratch in Austin,” Segall said. “They were the tie-dyed bunch of hippies that helped make Austin the creative mecca it is today.”

McClure wrote in a 2006 book marking the campaign’s 20th year that “the only time he had ever heard the word ‘litter’ was in reference to kittens.” On a restless walk one morning at sunrise, he noticed cans, bottles, plastic cups and paper. He thought Texans should take more pride in their place. “If you’re proud of your home, you keep it clean. Period.”

Spence also was incredibly effective. Segall said he was in charge of his advertising pitches, from conception to staying on message to being the “closer” on big accounts. His actions selling “Don’t Mess With Texas” bring to mind a brilliant courtroom attorney with its persuasiveness and marketing genius.

Selling the thing was political. Getting those in charge of the state’s purse strings to pay for marketing this message was necessary. The message involved getting into the psyche of Texans and raising their consciousness about tossing a can out the truck window. Some at TxDOT also wanted to soften it up by adding a “Please” to the phrase. McClure told them if they did that, they couldn’t have the phrase.

 

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