Daisy Girl: the advert that changed political advertising

When I was doing my round-up last year of five of the best political adverts from around the world, I included Lyndon Johnson’s Daisy Girl advert from 1964. Despite only being aired once, it has had a huge impact – both because of its power at the time and because of the way others since copied the use of a short, emotional story in preference to a long, factual presentation.

A new book is coming out about the Daisy Girl advert and its author, Robert Mann has been writing about the origins and impact of the Daisy Girl advert:

The contrast between Johnson’s spots in 1964 and John F. Kennedy’s in 1960 is remarkable. In style, the difference is more like a decade removed, not just four years. It was the creative executives at DDB in 1964 [working on the Daisy Girl advert and others] who helped show politicians how to use television not simply to inform but to persuade, and not so much to persuade viewers but to give them an experience.

The DDB spots were a hinge in presidential campaign history. The Daisy Girl spot’s skillful manipulation of the fears residing in American viewers showed a generation of political professionals that television advertising in campaigns was about far more than which candidate had the best facts; it was, instead, more about which candidate could give meaning to the facts—and fears—the voters already possessed. Daisy Girl and the other spots produced for Johnson qualify as the first television spots of the modern political era—an era in which presidential candidates increasingly and effectively used emotion, not reason, to win elections.

As the quote illustrates, the use of emotionally compelling short stories is not without its ethical traps.

Here is the advert for you to judge:

Five of the best political advertisements

The other adverts from my selection of five of the best political adverts were:

None of these political adverts of course should be confused with the strangest ads out there…

2 responses to “Daisy Girl: the advert that changed political advertising”

  1. Good God, Mark, that's a horrific advert. Not without its ethical traps? That's putting it mildly when the subject is the juxtaposition of a small child and a nuclear explosion.
    Also, one of my absolute pet hates is the use of children in political campaigning. They can't vote; they are essentially objects or props. They should be left out of it.

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