Joe Jonas Don't Mess With Texas PSA

Dont mess with Texas® – Official/YouTube

How Joe Jonas became the face of Texas’ anti-littering campaign—and got paid $150,000 for it

Jonas’ Texas-ness was questioned at times.


Amelia Wu


The Don’t Mess With Texas campaign, which began in 1985, has for nearly four decades encouraged Texans to stop littering through its “award-winning ads, statewide road tours, education programs, and contests.” 

This month, Ethan Hawke announced his partnership with the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) latest campaign.

Last year, the department hired Joe Jonas as its spokesperson. Public records obtained by the Daily Dot reveal the negotiations behind the scenes of the campaign, its rejected efforts for the video spots, and Jonas’ compensation. 

It even included a set of talking points in case Jonas’ Texas-ness was questioned.

In the late 1980s, TxDoT found it spent $20 million a year picking up trash, a number that increased annually. As an antidote, “Don’t Mess with Texas” began. 

Since its launch, the campaign recruited celebrities for their TV and radio ads, specifically big-name, famous Texans, like Matthew McConaughey and Willie Nelson. 

The goal of the campaign has remained steady—to keep Texas highways and streets litter-free, with the help of their mascot Darrell the Barrel. 

The campaign specifically aims to build awareness, change public attitudes, and encourage Texans to participate in litter prevention efforts. 

But celebrities don’t do it entirely out of their own generosity. 

Through GDC Marketing and Ideation, Jonas entered a non-exclusive content partnership agreement with TxDOT, which compensated him $150,000 for the project. 

In exchange, Jonas agreed to lend approved headshots and record a video advertisement for the campaign. 

In addition, Jonas would promote the campaign via his social media platforms at least twice. 

Jonas is currently facing backlash online in the wake of his PR response to his divorce from Sophie Turner.

The agreed pitch turned advertisement was Jonas crashing the “Don’t Mess with Texas” office in “a full on cowboy getup – even though that’s not really how Texans dress,” excited to be the next spokesperson in a The Office mockumentary style. 

“A fashionable fish out of water comically misrepresenting the state of Texas,” the pre-production describes the vision for Jonas’ outfit.  

Jonas’ final “hero look,” described as “Gucci meets the Wild West,” included a red and blue fringe jacket, accompanied by loud red cowboy boots with the words “Don’t Mess with Texas” on the sides. 

In the spot, Jonas takes over the office and “exasperates the interns & employees” by throwing away every piece of trash and litter around the office.

“Don’t mess with Texas means don’t litter,” Jonas, in blue-tinted sunglasses, says, staring down the camera.

The partnership with the TxDOT went over multiple pitches for potential video advertisements. 

One that didn’t make the cut included Jonas having a nightmare with “a frog riding a giant diaper monster” chasing him saying “litter-litter rather than ribbit” after Jonas throws a dirty diaper and misses the trash can.  

Additionally, due to Jonas’ “dance skills and popular TikTok persona,” another pitch in consideration involved Jonas as he “dance throws” litter into a barrel to upbeat music.

The search for a new celebrity spokesperson for the campaign started in 2020 when the department conducted a study that found 16-34-year-olds litter the most. 

The department found that the Jonas name was recognizable and familiar to that age demographic and began reaching out to his team with an idea for the partnership to “be a less traditional ‘spot’ and more digitally/socially based” advertisement.   

“I think he’s a safe and smart choice (points for being married to the Queen of the North!),” Texas’ travel information division director wrote in an email on January 21, 2022. 

Public comment questioned Jonas’ “Texan-ness” at times, as he was born in Arizona.

In response, the TxDOT arranged talking points to defend Jonas’ connection to the state, saying that he was a former resident of Westlake and lived in Texas at two points in his life, giving him rightful roots in the state. 

The TxDOT also gathered research about Jonas’ background, including his friendship with McConaughey, a previous spokesperson for the campaign. 

The two would “hang out and watch UT games” the campaign noted.

“Joe understands the pride that we have in our state and in keeping it clean for everyone to enjoy its beauty, now and in the future,” Becky Ozuna, coordinator for the Don’t Mess with Texas campaign, said in a press release. “We are thrilled to have Joe join us in bringing attention to our litter-free message through his comedic talent and timing.”

After Jonas and GDC agreed with TxDOT’s terms on February 23, 2022, a month and a half of production started. The spot was filmed in a single day.

The TxDOT and GDC worked with Black Coffee Productions and directors Josh Rimmey and Zach Williams. Rimmey and Williams have a history of working with the Jonas brothers, directing music videos and documentary-style mini-series for the band. 

Excluding Jonas’ $150,000 in compensation, the video production cost an estimated total of $452,818.50.  

One of the more significant expenses stemmed from the art department, specifically for constructing sets of office cubicles, which cost $7,000.

The bid, however, excluded expenses relating to transportation and security for “the talent” and wardrobe relating to “Darrell the Barrel.”  

The video was released on June 13, 2022. The partnership earned a PR value of $177 million, according to a TxDOT analytic presentation, receiving about 4.4 million impressions on the campaign.

On Jonas’ platforms, the video was a success. It received 75,722 likes and 912,000 views on Instagram. On TikTok, it got 26,400 likes, and the video was shared 498 times. 

Meanwhile, on the Don’t Mess with Texas social pages, the spot garnered 2,500 views on Instagram and 17,800 views on Twitter. 

The Don’t Mess with Texas website also attracted about 14,000 new users and recorded about 24,000 page views in June.

For the remainder of the 2022 year, TxDOT spent $515,000 on TV, radio, and digital platforms. The department also partnered that year with the Houston Astros, Dallas Cowboys, and several college teams including Texas Tech, SMU, and Texas State. 

The Houston Astros agreed to air the 30-second spot at 15 home games for $75,000. With the Dallas Cowboys, the $80,000 partnership lasted through March 2023 and included 500,000 banner impressions on the Dallas Cowboys website as well as “two game day activations.”

The campaign partnership with Jonas won multiple MarCom awards including work for digital and social media and in categories for video, television, and audio.

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