It is considered to be the most memorable and controversial political advertisement ever aired on television (Storey). A 3-year-old girl, a daisy, and a nuclear blast transformed the world of political T.V. ads and thrust it into the modern era that utilizes more negativity and emotional appeals than ever before.
The one-minute ad titled “Peace, Little Girl,” which is commonly referred to as the “Daisy” ad, was created by the New York advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential re-election campaign (Mann). It featured a little girl striving to count to ten as she picked petals off of a flower in the middle of a field. As she is counting, she is interrupted by an overpowering male voice nowhere to be seen on screen that is performing a countdown from ten. The camera slowly zooms in on the girl’s eye, and when it reaches its destination, a nuclear bomb explodes on screen. A voice then comes on stating that, “The stakes are too high” to not turn out to vote and encourages viewers to support Johnson.
This ad was a turning point for the world of political campaigning. Up until this point, and even Johnson’s opponent Barry Goldwater’s ads, political television advertising mainly comprised documentary films, speeches and lengthy interviews that were more aimed at informing voters than persuading them. Campaign advertising could make the shift from simply talking at people to giving them an experience to remember and playing with emotional appeals (Mann).
The Daisy ad focused on fear. There was a public sentiment in America that Goldwater was reckless, and some were skeptical of his loose views and positions concerning nuclear weapons (Mann, Storey). These public concerns did not mix well during a time in U.S. history filled with war, and Johnson’s campaign strived to capitalize and give meaning to these fears.
Though this was toward the beginning of televised political advertising, and televised targeting had hardly been conceived, the Johnson campaign crafted the context surrounding the ad and placement masterfully. On Monday, Sept. 7, Johnson set the stage by delivering a speech in Detroit that focused on criticizing Goldwater’s view that “conventional” nuclear weapon use was acceptable. Later that evening around 9:50 p.m., during an NBC broadcast of the historical drama film David and Bathsheba, the Daisy ad made its debut (Mann). Though it only aired once because it was so controversial, it reached an estimated 50 million viewers that night during a time when families would gather in their living rooms to watch the tube together (Mann). A T.V. ad placed at a time and on a network like NBC was able to reach a broad audience in the 1960s when there were less channels and less advertising overload from countless different platforms.
Johnson’s ad was undoubtedly revolutionary for the world of advertising; however, it hardly altered public opinion or had an effect on the presidential election. Gallup Polls from 1964 show that support for Johnson in early September were at sixty-two percent and only rose to 64 percent in October after the ad had aired. Similarly, Goldwater’s ratings slightly from thirty-two percent to twenty-nine percent, respectively. These minute shifts support Travis Ridout’s notion that mass communication influences will cause major shifts in public opinions during political campaigns.
Mann, Robert. “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds.” Campaigns & Elections. October 24, 2011. http://www.campaignsandelections.com/magazine/us-edition/267737/part_3/daisy-petals-and-mushroom-clouds.thtml
Storey, Will. “Revisiting the Daisy Ad Revolution.” New York Times. October 24, 2011. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/revisiting-the-daisy-ad-revolution/?_r=0