With Roads Turning to Gravel, TxDOT Turns to "Don't Mess With Texas" Merchandise for Cash

If the Texas Department of Transportation were a private company, it would have long ago plastered "Don't Mess With Texas" all over T-shirts, belt buckles, chastity belts, firearms, and any other consumer good its marketing department could call to mind.

As it is, the state agency has mostly limited the slogan to billboards, TV spots, and roadside trash cans, jealously guarded its trademark to keep it from "losing its original antilittering message," as the New York Times put it recently. Hence the 100-plus letters the agency's attorneys have sent out since 2000 warning everyone from belt-buckle manufacturers to romance novelists to cease and desist.

Now, 28 years after an Austin ad man coined the phrase in an attempt to convince young male Texans not to throw trash from their pickups, and with TxDOT reduced to converting paved roads to gravel, the agency has decided it's high time to cash in.

The Texas Tribune reported yesterday that TxDOT is preparing to launch a line of "Don't Mess With Texas" merchandise to be sold online and in state-run rest areas and travel information centers.

Previously, federal regulation prohibited the sale of merchandise at Interstate rest areas. Congress changed those rules earlier this year.

"This is another way for us to generate revenue," TxDOT spokewoman Veronica Beyer told the Tribune. "We're trying to find a vendor that will get us retail-ready because we're not retailers."

Among the consumer goods that could soon be legally branded: clothing, jewelry, boots, games, kitchen items and credit and debit cards. It just has to "project a positive impression of TxDOT," according to the request for proposals.

Guess that rules out the chastity belt.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson