Since being introduced in 1986, the “Don’t Mess With Texas” ad campaign has become one of the most successful public address announcements in the world. Texans love the phrase — it captures the grit, attitude and pride associated with the state. But what a lot of people outside state lines don’t realize is that the whole point of the phrase is to prevent littering, particularly along state roads.
To go along with the phrase, the Texas Department of Transportation began rolling out now-beloved TV and radio ads featuring famous Texans to bring, and sometimes sing, the message to the people. The tone of the ads differ greatly, from lighthearted and fun to serious to downright threatening. But they all have one thing in common: they end with that famous phrase, “Don’t Mess With Texas!” Here are the 10 best “Don’t Mess With Texas” ads of the past three decades.
10. Willie Nelson
Airing in 1989, Willie Nelson put a twist on one of his biggest hits, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” to deliver the pertinent anti-littering message.
9. George Foreman
In 1991, TxDOT decided to turn heavyweight boxing champion (and indoor grilling master) George Foreman into a preacher with an important message. Though he’s in holy garb, George’s call to “pray” for the fella who messes with Texas feels just a little bit threatening, doesn’t it?
8. Talking Longhorn
It doesn’t get much more Texan than a longhorn, the official state animal. 1996’s talking longhorn ad won over kids and adults alike. Kudos to TxDOT for including armadillos — the official state “small” animal — as well.
7. LeAnn Rimes
Garland, Texas native LeAnn Rimes skyrocketed to fame after her 1996 debut album Blue. In 1997 she became the youngest person to ever win a Grammy, and the first country artist to win the “Best New Artist” award. In 1998, she reprised her hit “Blue” to let you know your littering is making her cry!
6. Kevin Fowler
2014’s best ad featured Texas country heavy hitter Kevin Fowler and several confused children. What’s not to love? If all “singing trash cans” were this cool, they would probably be in more homes.
5. Greater Tuna
A classic satire on southern living, Greater Tuna was the first of 4 plays by Jaston Williams and Joe Sears revolving around the fictional town of Tuna, Texas (the third-smallest town in Texas). The play features only two cast members performing as over 20 different characters of both genders and all ages. In 1985, Greater Tuna became the most-produced play in America. This 1987 ad was a hit.
4. Moon To Givens
Believe it or not, the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) used to be pretty popular. So popular, in fact, that in 1989 TxDOT went with 9-time Pro Bowl quarterback Warren Moon and 2-time Pro Bowl receiver Ernest Givens over the Dallas Cowboys to deliver the no littering message. What makes the ad so great, besides the novelty, is Ernest Givens’ subdued response to “catching” the trash in the trash can, since he was known for inventing the “electric slide” touchdown celebration.
3. Matthew McConaughey
Even though he was 13 years away from landing the “Best Actor” Oscar, Matthew McConaughey was still a big deal when this ad aired in 2000. Unfortunately, the ad was deemed “too violent” and didn’t air much during prime time. Instead, it was shown before R-rated movies and late at night. What a shame — a camouflaged McConaughey shooting people with blow darts is exactly what prime time needs more of!
2. George Strait
Easily one of the best ads of 2010, the George Strait spot features a clueless director, an adorable tiny horse and an always classy King of Country.
1. The “Trashball”
Probably the most successful and iconic of the spots, the “trashball” is what a lot of Texans first think of when talking about the “Don’t Mess With Texas” ad campaign. It features (in order of appearance): Matthew McConaughey, Walker Texas Ranger, Erykah Badu, Lance Armstrong, Los Lonely Boys, Lee Ann Womack, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Chamillionaire.
Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Confederate Air Force (now the Commemorative Air Force) and the “Cowboy Poets” spot. Visit the Don’t Mess With Texas website for other videos and facts about the campaign.