"Daisy", sometimes known as "Daisy Girl" or "Peace, Little Girl", is a controversial political advertisement that aired on television during the 1964 United States presidential election by incumbent president Lyndon B. Johnson's campaign. Though officially aired only once by the campaign, it is considered to be an important factor in Johnson's landslide victory over Barry Goldwater and an important turning point in political and advertising history. It remains one of the most controversial political advertisements ever made.
The advertisement begins with a little girl (three-year-old Monique M. Corzilius) standing in a meadow with chirping birds, picking the petals of a daisy while counting each one—repeating some numbers and counting some in the wrong order.After she reaches "nine", she pauses, as if trying to remember the next number, and a male voice is then heard saying "ten", at the start of a missile launch countdown. Seemingly in response to the countdown, the girl turns her head toward a point off-screen, and the scene freezes. As the countdown continues, a zoom of the video still focuses on the girl's right eye until her pupil fills the screen, eventually blacking it out as the countdown simultaneously reaches zero. The blackness is instantly replaced by the bright flash and thunderous sound of a nuclear explosion, featuring video footage of a detonation similar in appearance to the near surface burst Trinity test of 1945. The scene then cuts to footage of a mushroom cloud, and then to a final cut of a slowed close-up section of the incandescence in the nuclear explosion.
A voiceover from Johnson plays over all three pieces of nuclear detonation footage, stating emphatically, "These are the stakes! To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die." At the end of the voiceover, the explosion footage is replaced by white letters on a black screen, with another voiceover (sportscaster Chris Schenkel) reading the words on the screen, "VOTE FOR PRESIDENT JOHNSON ON NOVEMBER 3RD", then adding, "The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
Though regarded as a negative ad against Johnson's opponent, Barry Goldwater, Goldwater is never mentioned in the ad.
In the 1964 election, Republican Barry Goldwater campaigned on a right-wing message of cutting social programs and pursuing aggressive military action. Goldwater's campaign suggested a willingness to use nuclear weapons in situations when others would find that unacceptable, something which Johnson sought to capitalize on. For example, Johnson used Goldwater's speeches to imply that he would willingly wage a nuclear war, quoting Goldwater: "by one impulse act you could press a button and wipe out 300 million people before sundown." In turn, Goldwater defended himself by accusing Johnson of making the accusation indirectly, and contending that the media blew the issue out of proportion.While Johnson portrayed himself as someone who wished to de-escalate the Vietnam War, Goldwater was a supporter and even suggested the use of nuclear weapons if necessary. Throughout the election, the Democrats portrayed Goldwater as a dangerous extremist, most notably mocking the Republican slogan "In your heart, you know he's right" with the counter slogan "In Your Guts, You Know He is Nuts".
The attack ad was designed to capitalize on these comments. It was not the only ad developed at this time, though it is the best-remembered. One was called "Girl with Ice Cream Cone", and it also talked about the risk of nuclear proliferation.Another was called "KKK for Goldwater", and it portrayed Goldwater as being racist, by noting that Alabama KKK leader Robert Creel supported him, and "Confessions of a Republican" also noted the KKK ties. Another notable ad of the Johnson campaign, "Eastern Seaboard", took aim at Goldwater's statement: "Sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea." Bob Mann, author of Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad That Changed American Politics, wrote: "were it not for the 'Daisy Girl' spot, 'Eastern Seaboard' might today be considered the most effective presidential attack ad."
The Daisy ad was created by a partnership between the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) advertising agency and Tony Schwartz, a sound designer and media consultant whom they hired to work on the project. The DDB team consisted of Art Director Sid Myers, Producer Aaron Ehrlich, Senior Copywriter Stan Lee and Junior Copywriter Gene Case. The concept, using the counting of a child leading into a launch pad countdown and ultimately to a nuclear explosion, is Schwartz's; he had used it two years prior in an anti-nuclear public service announcement he created for the United Nations.Casting and filming were done by DDB without Schwartz. The credit for the visual elements of the ad is disputed, with both Schwartz and the DDB team claiming credit.
"Daisy" aired only once, during a September 7, 1964, telecast of David and Bathsheba on The NBC Monday Movie . Johnson's campaign was widely criticized for using the prospect of nuclear war, as well as for the implication that Goldwater would start one, to frighten voters. Senator Thruston B. Morton (R-Kentucky) told the Senate on September 16 that the Democratic National Committee was putting on television “panic-inspired falsehoods” and that President Johnson must take responsibility for them, adding that the ad was aimed at "scaring the wits out of children in order to pressure their parents".The ad was immediately pulled, but the point was made, appearing on the nightly news and on conversation programs in its entirety. Jack Valenti, who served as a special assistant to Johnson, later suggested that pulling the ad was a calculated move, arguing that "it showed a certain gallantry on the part of the Johnson campaign to withdraw the ad." Johnson's line "We must either love each other, or we must die" echoes W. H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939" in which line 88 reads, "We must love one another or die." The words "children" and "the dark" also occur in Auden's poem.
The ad has been used or referenced in multiple political campaigns since. In 1984, Walter Mondale's unsuccessful presidential campaign used ads with a similar theme to "Daisy". Mondale's advertisements cut between footage of children and footage of ballistic missiles and nuclear explosions, over the song "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.In 1996, Bob Dole's unsuccessful presidential campaign used a short clip of "Daisy" in its "The Threat" ad. During the 2007 Australian federal election, the Australian Greens re-made "Daisy" as one of their campaign advertisements with their Daisy girl being a child called Hannah Byrne. The ad was also re-made in 2010 by the American Values Network and was aimed at getting voters to ask their senators to ratify the New START program. In 2016, Hillary Clinton enlisted the original Daisy girl to participate in a sequel of the ad used in her unsuccessful campaign against Donald Trump.
Another child actress, Birgitte Olsen, falsely claimed she was the child actress in the commercial, and has maintained that position for years.
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