AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s been over 35-years since the Texas Department of Transportation launched its “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign.
In 1986, trash on Texas highways was piling up faster than the state could clean it up — so the department launched the campaign, hoping to reduce the problem.
The first TV ad featured blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. But many people likely remember seeing Willie Nelson playing his guitar along a Texas highway and singing an anti-litter jingle so catchy it became stuck in people’s heads for days.
According to TxDOT, 98% of Texans said they knew the slogan, recognized the problem, and the litter rate actually dropped.
Flash forward to 35 years later, the campaign is still going strong.
In November 2020, “Don’t Mess with Texas” launched a Texas-sized contest to find its new anti-litter theme song. The “Lone Star Song Search” invited Texans to compose an original song to compete for prizes and more than 130 Texans answered the call.
“We’re happy to add some new undiscovered talent to spread the message to Texans. We have always relied on Texas musicians to help spread the word as influencers,” said Becky Ozuna Campaign Coordinator, TxDOT.
Texas A&M student Courtney Eoff ultimately won Best Original Song and walked away with a $5,000 recording studio donated by Guitar Center.
“Tons of people have been part of this,” said Eoff. “So the fact that my name is going to be part of this from now on is an honor and amazing.”
Her 30-second tune will carry on the mission of reducing the mess that costs TxDOT around $50 million every year.
Ozuna says the contest was also a way of getting younger eyes on the anti-litter campaign.
“It’s a good way to reach out to young people who may not have been born whenever the campaign first started,” said Ozuna. “Age is the No. 1 predictor of someone who will litter.”
Ozuna says typically 18 to 24-year-olds are more prone to litter.
The “Don’t Mess with Texas” program includes a grassroots partnership with Keep Texas Beautiful, annual “Trash-Off” community outreach events and the Adopt-a-Highway volunteer program.
TxDOT says the agency spends about $2.1 million a year on the “Don’t Mess with Texas” and Adopt-a-Highway programs.