Best of Political Advertising: The Daisy Girl
In the 1964 American Presidential election, Republican candidate Barry Goldwater campaigned on a right-wing message of cutting social programs and aggressive military action. His campaign even suggested a willingness to use nuclear weapons in situations when others would find that unacceptable. Lyndon B. Johnson, the Democratic candidate capitalized on this implying that he would willingly wage a nuclear war. He even quoted Goldwater’s speeches saying that by one impulse act you could press a button and wipe out 300 million people before sun down. Goldwater, however defended himself by accusing Johnson that the media blew the whole issue out of proportion. While Johnson supported de-escalation of the Vietnam War, Goldwater supported it and even suggested the use of nuclear weapons if necessary. The Daisy Girl campaign was designed to capitalize on Goldwater’s pro-war stance and his views on the use of even nuclear weapons.
The Daisy Girl Campaign
The advertisement begins with a two year-old girl standing in a meadow with chirping birds, picking the petals of a daisy flower while counting each petal slowly. The little girl does not know her numbers perfectly and repeats some and says others in the wrong order. All this adds to her childlike appeal. When she reaches number nine, an ominous-sounding voice announces a countdown of a missile launch. The girl’s eyes turn toward something she sees in the sky. When the countdown reaches zero, there is a nuclear explosion similar in appearance to the near surface burst Trinity Test of 1945 showing a billowing mushroom cloud.
As the firestorm rages, a voiceover from Johnson states, “These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.” Another voiceover says, “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay at home.”
The Daisy Girl ad was aired during a September 7, 1964, telecast of David and Bathsheba on the NBC Monday Movie. The ad was pulled after its first telecast due to widespread criticism of Johnson’s campaign for using the prospect of nuclear war and for the implication that Goldwater would start one to frighten voters. But the ad made its point appearing on the nightly news and on conversation programs in its entirety. Johnson used a dramatic line probably adapted from W. H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, in which a line reads – we must love one another or die. Johnson said during the campaign, “We must either love each other, or we must die.”
The highly controversial Daisy Girl campaign, created by Tony Schwartz of Doyle Dane Bernbach is not only considered an important factor in Johnson’s landslide victory over Barry Goldwater but also marked an important turning point in political advertising history.