The "Daisy Spot"—The Most Famous Political TV Ad

Posted by Steven Seidman on Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The most famous political TV ad of all time—the so-called "Daisy Spot"—was only run once. But it made quite an impression.

The 1964 presidential election campaign—pitting President Lyndon B. Johnson (or LBJ, as he was commonly called), the Democratic nominee, against Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee—was marked by increased media expenditures for TV spots, and audience attentiveness to them. According to Larry Sabato, ten thousand TV spots were aired in the largest seventy-five media markets during the campaign.

Advertising firm Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) developed the memorable spot for Johnson, calling it “Peace, Little Girl.” A DDB media specialist, Tony Schwartz, conceived the spot, after doing commercials that included children for Ivory Snow®, Johnson’s® Baby Powder, Polaroid cameras, and other corporate products. Schwartz believed that by combining the right images, words, music, and sound effects, an ad could strike an emotional “responsive chord” in a consumer. The “Daisy Spot” opened with a young girl picking a daisy, and a narrator counting down from “ten.” The girl plucks off the petals as the countdown continues, the camera simultaneously zooming in to an extreme close-up of the girl’s eye. An atomic explosion erupts, and Lyndon Johnson is heard saying, “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.”

Although the Republicans tried to counter the tactics manifested in this commercial with their own spots—the theme of which was “we are the party of peace through strength” and which were highly critical of the Democratic administration’s “failures at the ‘wall of shame in Berlin,’ the Bay of Pigs in Cuba and in Vietnam”—Goldwater’s already hawkish image had become so negative for so many people that the deleterious consequences of the Democratic propaganda could not be undone. Even though the “Daisy Spot” ran only once, an estimated fifty million viewers saw it, and after the Republicans protested its airing, many more read and heard about it. While it is likely that, without the efforts of the advertising firm, Johnson would have won the U.S. presidency in 1964, his margin were probably increased substantially by the advertising campaign.

DDB’s propaganda campaign (which included the "Daisy Spot") did two significant things: (1) it created a convincing image of Goldwater as an “extremist” “product” and (2) it softened the image of Johnson as a “crass wheeler-dealer,” making him seem almost avuncular—virtually a “peace and love” advocate of the 1960s—in comparison to his “bellicose” opponent.

To see the "Daisy Spot" ad, click on: