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