Daisy - 50 Years Later

Sept. 7 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most powerful and controversial commercials of all time: the Daisy spot for the Lyndon Johnson campaign against Barry Goldwater in 1964. The 60-second spot aired only once, on Labor Day evening during a commercial break for the movie "David and Bathsheba" on NBC -- yet it had a major impact on the campaign and political advertising that would follow in the decades ahead.

In the spot, a little girl counts petals that she peels from a daisy. As she reaches the number 10, the camera zooms into her eye and we hear an announcer counting down for the blast of an atomic bomb. The bomb explodes and we hear Lyndon Johnson saying: "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." A voiceover ends the spot with the words "Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home." (The ad can be viewed on YouTube.)

After the spot aired, the Republicans cried foul and the news media picked up the story, repeating it in TV news programs many times. Time magazine put a still from the spot on its cover a few weeks later. So anyone who missed the movie was sure to see it or know about it. Daisy went viral long before we used that term. Although the spot never mentioned Barry Goldwater, it evoked feelings in many people that he would be too quick to use atomic weapons. Some said that the spot ensured victory for Johnson, although this is probably an exaggeration, since Johnson had so much going for him and Goldwater was viewed by many as an extremist. Johnson surely would have won without Daisy, although the spot did appear to move Johnson up in the polls.


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