Iconic Ads: Lyndon Johnson Presidential – Daisy Girl

The Iconic Ad of Daisy Girl for Lyndon Johnson Presidential Campaign set the future for negative political advertising.

It was a 60-second television ad that shook up American politics forever on September 7th, 1964. Counting the daisy petals was a 3-year-old girl in a plain frock who had plucked it from a field. The little girl kept score. Her words were supplanted by a mission-control countdown and a mushroom-shaped nuclear explosion descended onto the Earth

Though couched, the message was clear – Barry Goldwater was a murderous psychopath who’s candidacy for president was a menace to the future of the world.

Doyle Dane Bernbach had been given the job by the Democratic National Committee. About ten art directors and copywriters were assigned by Bill Bernbach for this project. To be considered for this project, the members had to be Democrats. They were led by Stan Lee and Sid Myers.

In a huge binder, they were given all of Goldwater’s speeches from the time he first entered politics. For example, he claimed that the United States would be better off if it just sawed off its Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea. They used this comment as an example to demonstrate their point. Someone running for president of the entire world saying something like that was downright outrageous

Nuclear responsibility was the most significant because Goldwater advocated the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam at the time. In addition, the fight against poverty and the use of Social Security was ongoing. DDB was focusing on those three major campaign concerns.

Working with producer Aaron Ehrlich and sound engineer Tony Schwartz, Myers and Lee produced and engineered one of the most memorable political television commercials of all time.

Prior to the Daisy ad, Schwartz worked on a number of child voiceovers that were important to the success of the campaign. An example of this was in an old Polaroid commercial from 1960, in which Jonathan, Schwartz’ nephew, is seen counting out of sequence, precisely like a young girl in the Daisy campaign. To set the stage for the Daisy commercial two years later, Schwartz created a public service announcement for the United Nations in 1962. “Sometimes numbers can be fun,” an announcer says. It’s then followed by Jonathan (from the earlier Polaroid shots) doing the countdown followed by an adult voice counting down to the nuclear explosion, and so forth. “Sometimes,” the announcer’s voice responds with a sarcastic tone. As heard on WNYC radio, the ad’s “Mission Control” countdown and explosion were all kept in place, but the language that said “occasionally” was changed to read: “People of all ages. Death awaits us all if another world war breaks out. Become a United Nations supporter.” As part of a demo for IBM, Schwartz used his countdown soundtrack. However, Ogilvy and IBM did not use it.

DDB was looking for ideas for a sixty-second version of a five-minute spot about the threat of nuclear war, complete with voices ticking down in English and Russian. After that, Schwartz recommended DDB listen to his IBM tape.

It struck a chord with the four members of the group: Stan, Myers, Aaron Ehrlich, and Tony Schwartz “wow, wouldn’t that be great. One of them said “ Wouldn’t it be great to have this countdown and then meld it into an ominous voice of a guy counting down and the bombs exploding”

Schwartz, on the other hand, already had a recording of the United Nations locations in the can. Sid Myers, in a later phase, added the visual elements.

Daisy Girl pioneered negative political advertising half a century ago. The ad only ran once, despite its notoriety. Second, Goldwater’s name was completely omitted from the text. Finally, Goldwater’s odds against LBJ were minimal by the time the commercial ran, despite the fact that the ad is frequently credited with ensuring victory.

It was projected that the NBC ad buy would be around $24,000. According to a report in Newsweek, the true cost was $30,000. And it only aired one time. Ads on big network newscasts are usually expensive, but in this case, both figures might be counted as bargains. An estimated 50 million people tuned in to see it for the first time.

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