The most effective marketing messages actually change people’s behavior, and by this measure, the “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign is a picture of success. The phrase, which is now part of the public consciousness, began as an anti-litter campaign in the 1980s. The Texas Department of Transportation faced a roadside litter problem that was costing millions to clean up. The worst culprits were identified as young men with macho mindsets who drove pick-up trucks, liked sports, and listened to country music. To reach this demographic (internally nicknamed “Bubba”), a “Pitch In” message wouldn’t work, because Bubbas don’t have much community identity. Messages to make them feel guilty about spoiling nature wouldn’t resonate either, and polite requests like “Please Don’t Litter” would equal wimpy pleading. On the other hand, fear-based messages that threatened hefty fines could backfire by associating littering with outlaw behavior. Bubbas, after all, don’t like being told what to do.
But “Don’t Mess with Texas” hit the right note. Even if a Bubba didn’t have much community feeling, he did have a concept of himself as a Texan. And this message said real Texans don’t litter. Ads that featured the state’s athletes and musicians gave the message a shot of masculinity and credibility. In addition, the phrasing was spot on. “Don’t Mess with Texas” is short, simple, and catchy with its humorous internal rhyme and play on the word “mess.”
Visible roadside litter decreased 72% during the first five years of the campaign. The campaign is getting a makeover this year to reach a new generation of litterbugs, but as for the core message that defines proper behavior for true Texans, that isn’t being messed with.
Idea Source: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath