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As long as there have been campaign ads, politicians have appealed to fear and emotion to sway the vote in their favor. While ads often turn negative, most are nothing compared to the 1964 daisy spot ad, which was produced by Lyndon Johnson’s campaign for the 1964 Presidential election. For fans of negative campaigning, there is no ad that has been quite as effective in American politics, and it only aired once as a commercial, before being broadcast by network news. For others, the daisy spot ad is a heinous example of purposeful exploitation of deep-seated American fear of annihilation through nuclear war.
The daisy spot ad begins with a sweet girl counting the petals of daisies as she takes them off a single flower. She runs out of numbers, and starts counting again. A voiceover replaces her count, with the typical “countdown” sequence to launching a nuclear weapon, and several mushroom cloud explosions replace the girl’s image. Lyndon Johnson’s voice is heard talking about the need for people to “love each other” or perish, and the ad concludes with an enjoinment to vote for Johnson because the “stakes are too high” to vote elsewhere.
The advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach created the daisy spot ad, mostly in response to Senator Barry Goldwater’s (the Republican presidential hopeful) statements that limited use of nuclear weapons might be appropriate. It was an easy step to make between Goldwater’s statements and the threat of what might occur if the US did use nuclear weapons to end a war. Many people feared the consequences, and though the ad does not even name Goldwater, it certainly implies that he could destroy everything if elected.
The Republican Party and Goldwater’s campaign were infuriated by the daisy spot ad, resulting in the Johnson campaign’s decision to not air the ad again, but the major news networks did air it in news broadcasts. Anyone who missed the ad in prime time had a chance to catch it again. Many cite the spot as one of the major factors in Johnson’s reelection, with a landslide win.
If you have not seen the daisy spot ad, (also called the daisy ad, the daisy girl ad or the daisy spot) it is well worth viewing. It is available online at a number of sites. Although the advertisement was not the first example of extremely negative ads that rely on people’s fears, it is viewed as the most effective and memorable to date. Today’s negative campaign ads are comparatively weak when viewed alongside the daisy spot.