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 of all presidential campaign ads, Lyndon Johnson’s “Peace Little Girl (Daisy)” is based on the simple but stunning juxtaposition of a little girl picking petals off a flower with a countdown to a nuclear explosion. This was also the first time that a child was used in a campaign ad.
The Barry Goldwater campaign tried its own scary juxtaposition in the ad “We Will Bury You” with a scene of young students saying the Pledge of Allegiance intercut with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev making his famously threatening speech.
Gerald Ford’s 1976 ad “Children/Achievements” stressed his informal style—in contrast to the “imperial presidency” of Richard Nixon—and also used children to reflect the campaign’s theme of feeling good about America and its future after the traumas of Vietnam and Watergate.
President Reagan’s ad “Peace,” part of his “Morning in America” campaign, used Norman Rockwell-style images of suburban children at play to assuage fears about nuclear escalation.
The specter of nuclear war was precisely the issue at the heart of the Walter Mondale ad “Arms Control,” which opens with the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song “Teach Your Children.”
George Bush surrounded himself with his own grandchildren in the ad “Family/Children,” which was ostensibly about his record but was most effective in portraying him as a caring parent.
In the 1996 campaign, domestic issues were at the forefront, and Bill Clinton’s ad “Surgeon” opens with inspiring shots of children sharing their dreams for the future, and ends with Bob Dole threatening to eliminate the Department of Education.
Dole’s commercial “The Threat” made a direct, if ineffective, reference to the “Daisy Girl” ad, arguing that teen drug use had replaced nuclear annihilation as the main threat facing today’s children.
The cost of health care was a major issue in 2000, and it was personalized by Al Gore in the commercial “Ian,” which used a compelling case study to back up his call for a Patient’s Bill of Rights.
George Bush’s prophetic ad “Dangerous World” was one of the few commercials from that year to deal at all with national-security concerns.