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5 Most Effective Campaign Ads

        Culture | Elections

"Daisy Girl" (1964)
President Lyndon Baines Johnson's reelection helped redefine the political campaign ad.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson's reelection helped redefine the political campaign ad.
The Abbott Sengstacke Family Papers/Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

By 1964, when Lyndon Johnson was trying to hold onto the presidency against the Republican challenger Barry Goldwater, Madison Avenue had changed considerably. Gone were the repetitive slogans and fresh-faced actors making the "hard sell" for a particular brand. In their place were a new type of commercial, popularized by the Volkswagen Beetle ads of the early 1960s produced by ad firm Doyle Dane Bernbach. DDB relied on a "soft-sell" technique, showing the virtues of a product "lifestyle" with a sense of humor and self-deprecating wit [source: Wisconsin Public Television].

The Johnson campaign hired DDB to produce a series of ads, but the most famous -- even infamous -- is the "Daisy Girl" spot from 1964. The commercial opens with a bucolic scene of a young girl in a grassy field picking petals from a daisy. She counts as she plucks each petal, but when she gets to ten, the camera zooms in on the black pupil of her eye. Suddenly, we hear an almost robotic male voice counting down from 10. When he arrives at zero, the screen is filled with a ballooning mushroom cloud and the roar of a nuclear detonation. Innocence is obliterated with the push of a button, a fear that Johnson wanted to equate with the hard line nuclear stance of Goldwater.

It worked. Even though the ad only aired once, during an NBC "Monday Night at the Movies" broadcast, it had a tremendous impact on the national political conversation [source: TIME]. It's hard to measure the effectiveness of a single political ad, but LBJ ended up crushing Goldwater in the general election, winning 44 states.

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