The Texas Department of Transportation owns the federally registered trademark on the phrase, “Don’t mess with Texas.” The slogan was coined in 1985 by Tim McClure, a native Texan and a founder of GSD&M, an advertising agency based in Austin. The agency was hired by the state to help its antilittering campaign reach the worst highway offenders — men under 25.
That was 30 years ago, and over the years the phrase has become something much bigger. From barrooms to sports arenas to political conventions, it’s become an identity statement, a declaration of Texas swagger, a way for Texans to claim superiority or victory or simply boast of “a Texan’s Texasness” said the New York Times.
In the last 13 years, Texas transportation officials have contacted more than 100 companies, organizations and individuals about the unauthorized use of the phrase, often in the form of strongly worded cease-and-desist letters that warn violators to either stop using the slogan or obtain licensing for it for a fee reported the New York Times.
Those who have tried to use the phrase include:
- a Montana company selling a “Don’t Mess With Texas” belt buckle
- The author of a romance novel titled “Don’t Mess With Texas”
Texas officials say they want to prevent “Don’t Mess With Texas” from losing its original antilittering message and protect the authorized use of its trademark. But others say that the state has been overzealous and that it is seeking to control a phrase so popular and well worn that people now associate it more with tough Texans than with litterbugs.
Texas is just as protective of another popular phrase, “Remember the Alamo.”
The state and its General Land Office, is responsible for the oversight of the Alamo in San Antonio. They registered “the Alamo” as a trademark, and claimed common-law rights on “Remember the Alamo.”
Last year, a San Antonio bar owner tried to register the phrase “I Can’t Remember the Alamo,” but Texas opposed the bar owner’s trademark application. They argued it would lead consumers to believe it was sponsored by the General Land Office, and that it tarnished the state “by communicating that the heroism and sacrifice undertaken by its forebears is not worthy of memory or esteem.” Texas won that fight.