'Daisy,' LBJ's Anti-Goldwater TV Ad That Ran Only Once And Shocked A Nation

Culture | September 7, 2020

Young Monique Luiz counts flower petals in 'Dasy.' Source: YouTube

On September 7th, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson's "Daisy" TV advertisement changed political campaigns forever. The ad, which presented Johnson as a peaceful leader and his opponent Barry Goldwater as a nuclear war-loving madman, encouraged future candidates to completely alter how their campaigns would be constructed. “Daisy” shocked the world and proved that targeting emotions can be the most effective method to persuade an audience. 

Senator Barry Goldwater and President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office, May 21, 1968. Source: Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library Photo via Politico

The battle for presidency between Democratic candidate Lyndon B. Johnson and Republican Barry Goldwater Sr. was a malicious fight. Johnson had been Vice President under John F. Kennedy, and had risen to the presidency following the assassination of JFK on November 22, 1963. Goldwater’s political experience came from his long service as a Senator from Arizona. Goldwater criticized all of Johnson’s presidential goals, instead offering up a conservative agenda. Goldwater even proudly cited his vote against the Civil Rights Act, passed earlier in 1964. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two men was their stance on the Cold War and warfare in general. Johnson was an advocate of peace, which caused Republicans to believe that Communists could take over and wipe out America under his leadership. On the other hand, Goldwater claimed he was pro-war and not opposed to using nuclear weapons on Cuba and North Vietnam to protect the country. Thus, Democrats viewed Goldwater as a president that could contribute unnecessary warfare and were then afraid for their lives and the future of the country.

Source: KUT.org

The Democratic Party saw the value of portraying Goldwater as dangerous, and made their case in the ominous, groundbreaking 60-second advertisement “Daisy” (or "Peace, Little Girl").  The spot showed Monique Luiz, a 3-year-old child, plucking petals from a daisy, exuding the innocence of youth. She counts each petal, until it seems as though she forgot what number follows 9, when a loud missile control countdown takes over the audio counting down from 10. The screen is then taken over by a colossal nuclear blast forming the stereotypical mushroom cloud implying that the little girl, along with thousands of others, had been killed. Johnson’s voice states:

“These are the stakes: to make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other. Or we must die.”

Although the ad never stated Goldwater’s name, it was obvious the message was that the country would be safe at the hands of Johnson, but would be in grave danger if the warmongering Goldwater were to win the presidency. 

DDB Revolutionized Political Advertising

Source: The Conversation

“Daisy” was the successful project of the advertising company Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), founded by Bill Bernbach. Before this campaign, DDB had worked with brands such as Volkswagen and Avis, so politics was a completely new direction. Bernbach’s marketing philosophy was to never play it safe and to treat advertising as an art based on emotions, not a science backed up by research. He was determined that political advertising could be completely revamped by appealing to the audience's feelings. Instead of the typical speeches based on facts and data which tend to lose attention easily, he focused on creating short (30-60 second) ads that were highly visual and tugged at people’s heartstrings.

Bernbach’s methods succeeded when a couple of months later Johnson won the election in a landslide. However, when the ad aired Republicans were outraged at the implicit representation of Goldwater as a dangerous man so “Daisy” was pulled. Although the ad only ran once, its impact was extremely powerful. It stoked fear in Americans' hearts, proving people can easily be persuaded through the awakening of their emotions. “Daisy” was also one of the first to be considered a “negative advertisement,” promoting its candidate by focusing on the undesirable characteristics of the opponent. Today, political campaigns continue to utilize the trends of “Daisy” by airing short advertisements that focus on visuals rather than words, arouse emotions, and obviously emphasize the negative.

Tags: Advertising | Barry Goldwater | Lyndon Johnson | Nuclear War | Politics | Television | The Cold War

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Brian Gilmore


Brian Gilmore has been writing about and studying everything the Internet loves since 2006 and you've probably accidentally read something he's written before, and if you haven't, you're already reading this bio, so that's a good start. He's a culture junkie ranging from Internet culture, to world history, to listening to way more podcasts than the average human being ever should. He's obsessed with the social catalysts that have caused some of the biggest movements of the last few hundred years, including everything from their effect on the pop culture of the time, to where they end up ideologically. The idea that generations have a beginning and an end is fascinating to him, and the fact that their lasting effects at any given point of their evolution can steer the direction of the entire world lead to some interesting questions, and answers, about our current culture at any given time. He also loves retrofuturism, phobias, and the fact that every pop culture icon has at least a few photos of them that make you feel like you might know them. History isn't a collection of stories as much as it is humanity trying its hardest to maintain a grasp on lessons we've learned before as a species, and that is just way too interesting to not look into a few hours a week. Oh and he used to collect Pez dispensers.