I’m a Texan and I get it. Texans are often cocky, arrogant, dismissive, and headstrong. Some Texans are accused of showing more state pride than national pride. Texas legends permeate the global lexicon: “Remember the Alamo,” “The stars at night are big and bright (clap clap clap clap),” and “Don’t Mess with Texas” are slogans for which the state has become known.
At least once a month, I meet a visitor to Texas who inevitably asks about Texas pride and all the trappings and attitude that come with it. I never try to defend it, but I do try to explain it. Here’s my take:
The first major difference between Texas and all the other states in the union is: Texas was a sovereign republic when it joined the United States. All other states were colonies or territories. Prior to joining the union, Texas fought for its independence. That’s significant. Blood and treasure were lost as Texans racked up devastating defeats at the hands of General Santa Ana and the Mexican Army — most notably at the battle of the Alamo. Texas pride began when Texans declared their independence from Mexico, defeated their enemy against overwhelming odds, and formed their own republic.
The second major influencer for Texas pride is — and the stereotype is true — everything is bigger in Texas:
- Texas is larger than any European country.
- The Texas capitol building is the largest in the United States, including the capitol building in D.C.
- The King Ranch in Texas is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
- Texas has the fastest highway (85 mph) and the widest (26 lanes).
Texas produces the most crude oil, helium, and wool in the U.S., and it has the most farmland. The Texas State Fair is the largest in the U.S. Texas even has the largest colony of bats! I could go on and on here, but if I did, I’d sound like an arrogant Texan.
There is an interesting fact about Texas that many do not know, and I believe it best describes the Texas swagger — it’s the word “maverick.” The word comes from a lesser known but highly impactful Texan, Samuel Maverick (1803 to 1870). Maverick was a Texas lawyer, politician, and land baron who was original, influential, and independent. He was infamous for not branding his cattle. One story says that he took cattle as payoff for a loan, but he didn’t want to become a rustler, so he never branded them. However, his detractors said that was just an excuse to claim any unbranded cattle as his own.
Today, someone who goes against the herd (is unbranded when all others share the same brand) is considered a maverick. I believe the maverick mentality best describes most Texans. We can do it ourselves. We chose to become part of the United States. Our size and economy can compete on a global scale. Texas is filled to the brim with genuine mavericks.
For some, Texas swagger is off-putting; for others, it is the stuff that legends and lore is made of. What is undeniable is that people all around the world know there’s something different about Texas. As a marketer and someone fascinated with business culture and communications, I look at Texas as a super-scale model of effective culture and brand building.
Strong culture begins with the people, their core values, and their purpose. Think about Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and even Samuel Maverick. Their belief in freedom from Mexico and the strong belief that everyone should control their own destiny. That culture of independence still permeates Texas today.
Next is the messaging and communications. “Don’t Mess with Texas,” was the slogan from an anti-littering campaign launched in Texas in 1985. It was penned by the Austin-based ad agency GSD&M and has been Texas’ unofficial state motto ever since (the official state motto is: Friendship). “Remember the Alamo” is a battle cry for vengeance that lives on today. Even the “Lone Star State,” which is taken from the single star on the state flag, also implies that ‘lone’ sentiment I mentioned earlier.
Speaking of flags, consider the visual branding of Texas. Of the 50 state flags, how many would you recognize? Or of the 50 state shapes, how many would you get correct? My guess is the flag and shape of Texas would be near the top. You rarely see the state’s name without the reinforcement of the flag, or the state’s shape. I once traveled to Dusseldorf, Germany and came across a bar called “Texas” complete with the state flag and shape. It was adorned with cowboy paraphernalia and it was packed. No offense, but I doubt a bar called “Utah” would create the same amount of buzz and atmosphere.
The images conjured when people think of Texas are universal — cattle, oil, football, cowboy culture, big cars, big trucks, big hair, big egos — the lore constantly feeds the brand.
Texas and Texans are different in many ways. But the unique origin story of Texas is what still makes it unique today. And whether you find it famous or infamous, it’s an amazing example of what consistent culture and messaging can do for a brand.