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When LBJ's Infamous 'Daisy' Ad Changed Politics Forever

Lyndon B Johnson's 1964 Presidential campaign
Broadcast only once, LBJ "Daisy" still packs a punch.

Half a century ago, Pres. Lyndon Johnson teamed up with the ad men of New York to produce one of the most famous – and controversial – political ads of all time.

A young girl lackadaisically plucks the petals off a flower, counting as she goes. But soon, her count is interrupted by a mission-control style countdown: when it ends, a mushroom cloud envelops the screen. "These are the stakes," Johnson intones. "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." 

Produced for Johnson's 1964 campaign, “Daisy” only aired once as an ad – although it was rebroadcast and analyzed by the pundits of the day. Still, it forever changed the landscape of American politics. And now, on its 50th anniversary, its influence is as strong as ever.

Robert Mann, a professor of mass communications at Louisiana State University, recently penned a piece for Politico about the ad. He spoke with Texas Standard's David Brown about Johnson’s groundbreaking commercial and its lasting legacy in political advertising.

Interview highlights

On the scope of the ad:

"I estimate about a hundred million people saw it that week [broadcast originally, and then on the news] ... That’s a huge audience for 1964 – that’s about 60, 70, 80 percent of the electorate watched that spot depending on what your estimate is of the number of people who saw it at least once.”

On how the ad was different:

“What one of the brilliant aspects of the daisy girl spot was they never mentioned [Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater], never showed his image, because they didn’t need to. The audience already had a lot of information on Goldwater’s reckless positions and statements on nuclear war and nuclear weapons … they were trying to use what the voters already knew.”

On why this kind of political advertising stuck:

“This showed that spot advertising could be really effective, not just in selling soap and soup, but also candidates and so the political candidates in the next presidential election and other elections around the country thereafter realized ‘Okay, this is the way we reach voters and this is how we do it.’”

David entered radio journalism thanks to a love of storytelling, an obsession with news, and a desire to keep his hair long and play in rock bands. An inveterate political junkie with a passion for pop culture and the romance of radio, David has reported from bases in Washington, London, Los Angeles, and Boston for Monitor Radio and for NPR, and has anchored in-depth public radio documentaries from India, Brazil, and points across the United States and Europe. He is, perhaps, known most widely for his work as host of public radio's Marketplace. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to Texas full-time in 2005, Brown joined the staff of KUT, launching the award-winning cultural journalism unit "Texas Music Matters."
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