Peace Little Girl (Daisy)
The most famous of all campaign commercials, known as the “Daisy Girl” ad, ran only once as a paid advertisement, during an NBC broadcast of Monday Night at the Movies on September 7, 1964. Without any explanatory words, the ad uses a simple and powerful cinematic device, juxtaposing a scene of a little girl happily picking petals off of a flower (actually a black-eyed Susan), and an ominous countdown to a nuclear explosion. The ad was created by the innovative agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, known for its conceptual, minimal, and modern approach to advertising. The memorable soundtrack was created by Tony Schwartz, an advertising pioneer famous for his work with sound, including anthropological recordings of audio from cultures around the world. The frightening ad was instantly perceived as a portrayal of Barry Goldwater as an extremist. In fact, the Republican National Committee spelled this out by saying, “This ad implies that Senator Goldwater is a reckless man and Lyndon Johnson is a careful man.” This was precisely the intent; in a memo to President Johnson on September 13, Bill Moyers wrote, “The idea was not to let him get away with building a moderate image and to put him on the defensive before the campaign is old.” The ad was replayed in its entirety on ABC’s and CBS’s nightly news shows, amplifying its impact.
Museum of the Moving Image
The Living Room Candidate - Transcript
"Peace Little Girl (Daisy)," Johnson, 1964
CHILD: One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine, nine.
MALE VOICE: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero.
(Sound of exploding bomb)
JOHNSON (voice-over): These are the stakes: To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the darkness. We must either love each other, or we must die.
MALE NARRATOR: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.
The most famous example is the “Daisy” ad, which used the power of suggestion to imply that Barry Goldwater might lead the world to nuclear destruction. Goldwater’s infamous statement at the Republican convention that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” helped to lend credence to such concerns.
Similarly, the chaos at the Democratic convention in 1968 and the escalation of the Vietnam War were used by Richard Nixon to imply that a Democratic victory could lead to large-scale disaster.
Meanwhile, Hubert Humphrey’s campaign invoked the specter of a Nixon presidency leading to nuclear mushroom clouds in the ad “Bomb (Nuclear Treaty).”
George McGovern’s call for cuts in defense spending in 1972 created the basis for a memorable ad that used a hand sweeping away plastic toys to represent the U.S. military being decimated.
A high-tech version of this same idea, using computer graphics, can be seen in George W. Bush’s 2004 ad “Weapons.”
An example of an effective use of the man-in-the-street testimonial to inspire fear is the 1980 Jimmy Carter ad “Streetgov,” in which California voters expressed their concerns about seeing Governor Reagan in the White House.
One of the most evocative fear ads, and one of the very few presidential campaign commercials to use suggestive, symbolic imagery, is “Bear,” in which a lurking bear in the woods represented the Soviet threat, as well as any other unknown menaces from abroad.
While the Reagan ad stirred up Cold War anxiety, Walter Mondale’s campaign in 1984 focused on creating concern about the mounting deficit, as in the ad “Rollercoaster.”
In the 1988 campaign, fear was personified by the case of William Horton, a black Massachusetts convict who committed rape and murder against a white couple while on furlough. Horton’s crimes were blamed, both directly and indirectly, on the alleged leniency of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis. Although Horton was not named in the ad “Revolving Door,” he was clearly the subject. The grainy black-and-white imagery and haunting music were meant to enhance the ad’s ominous feeling.
Similarly, George Bush’s 1992 ad “Arkansas 2” used a horror-film style to depict Arkansas under the leadership of Governor Bill Clinton.
The iconic status of the 1964 “Daisy” ad was acknowledged by the 1996 Bob Dole ad “The Threat,” which opened with an image from the Johnson ad, and then offered a suggestion concerning what to worry about in the present.