Great Ad Campaigns: Daisy
One of the most thought-provoking and impactful ad campaigns of all time, the Daisy advert hit the headlines in the 1960s when Lyndon B. Johnson took on presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The ad aired once and it was only 60 seconds long, but it changed the face of political advertising forever.
The scene begins with a young, innocent-looking girl counting the petals on a flower. As she counts to ten, making the odd mistake to underline her youth and naivety, the picture changes dramatically.
The young girl’s voice is replaced with a menacing voiceover, which starts counting down from 10, and the image of her angelic face is erased by an explosion, which produces dark, mushroom-shaped clouds. President Johnson then starts to talk and the advert closes with a narrator urging people to vote for Johnson.
Alongside images of destruction and a chilling voiceover that provides a stark contrast to the sweet, gentle, upbeat tones of the child, President Johnson utters the words, “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."
The ad was created by the Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) agency in collaboration with media consultant and sound designer, Tony Schwartz.
A review of the campaign
The Daisy advert, which was officially entitled ‘Peace, Little Girl’ was aired once, but people still talk about it decades later. This was an ad that made waves.
Political advertising had not always been sweetness and light before the 1964 election campaign, but nobody had seen anything like the Daisy ad before.
The controversial content of the piece made it disappear from TV screens almost immediately, but the damage had been done in terms of creating headlines and attracting attention.
The short clip received widespread media coverage and started conversations up and down the country.
The ad was produced by high-profile New York firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach, which had established a reputation for innovative advertising through previous campaigns for Volkswagen and Avis.
This ad was outside of the box and it played on emotional responses at a time when the threat of nuclear war was fresh in people’s minds.
Daisy is a campaign ad that took a different direction from traditional put-downs and trash-talking. This ad doesn’t mention Barry Goldwater by name once, but it has a clear target and the message is that voting for him would bring disruption, violence and misery.
Lyndon B. Johnson won the vote with a significant margin. There is a great deal of discussion about the impact of the Daisy ad, which was the first in a series of campaign ads run by the camp.
Some people believe that it was a driving factor, while others think that Johnson was already the clear favorite when it aired. There is no doubt though that it remains one of the most powerful pieces of political advertising to grace the screen.
Copywriting lessons to learn from the Daisy ad
Writing campaign ads for presidential candidates is very different from promoting products or services, but the primary aim is the same: to make the viewer think and act.
There are several valuable lessons for copywriters to take from the Daisy ad campaign.
Daisy got people talking not just because of the force of the message and the tone of the ad, but also because it was totally original.
People had seen political adverts before, but they had never witnessed an advert like Daisy. This was a shift from the usual campaign ads and it offered a creative insight into what makes people vote.
Reserved, well-rehearsed speeches and talking heads were replaced by cinematic scenes that were more reminiscent of movie scenes. This was an original ad, which provoked reactions because it asked questions and presented audiences with something different and unique.
Being creative is an effective means of getting messages across and setting ads apart. Viewers may spend hours watching adverts or commercials on TV or via phones and tablets nowadays.
The challenge for copywriters is to make the ad stand out and ensure that it is memorable. Injecting creativity and thinking outside the box is a way of distinguishing brands, candidates or organizations from others that want to share the limelight and secure votes or sales.
2. Triggering an emotional reaction
One of the main reasons why people still talk about Daisy is its ability to trigger emotional reactions. This was a campaign ad that was specifically designed to play on the emotions and generate a response.
Often, humans act and behave in a certain way because of their emotional connection or reaction. We buy products because they make us feel good, for example. This ad is particularly powerful because it seeks to evoke emotions in each and every viewer.
The gravity of the message in the Daisy ad means that it is virtually impossible to watch it without automatically experiencing and expressing emotions.
Instant responses and natural reactions shape behavior. In the case of this campaign, the team behind Daisy hoped that people would watch the clip and then vote based on the reaction of the heart, rather than the head.
As a copywriter, it’s always beneficial to try to use words to provoke an emotional response and pull at the strings that impact behavior.
Often, this means using copy to persuade people to buy products, but it can also apply to services, choosing firms and businesses and voting in elections.
3. Using fear
It’s natural to feel fearful when watching the Daisy ad. The aim of the campaign was to trigger this response to ensure that people voted for Johnson rather than his opponent.
Fear drives actions and it also creates a sense of urgency. In the case of this ad, the viewer experiences fear because of the visual scenes and imagery and the chilling voiceover, but they also worry about what the future holds.
There is also a sense of urgency created by the voting deadline. The ad is suggesting that if people don’t vote, the future will look bleak. If they do vote, they have a chance to save the country and each other.
Advertisers often play on fear to generate responses and encourage prospective customers to take the next step, often as quickly as possible.
We may buy products that are on offer because we worry about missing out on a deal, for example. Ads somehow make us feel that if we don't take action, our lives will be worse because of that decision.
4. Making an impact
Daisy hit the headlines because it made an impact on people. The team behind the advert knew that most voters already had information about the candidates and they wanted to use ads to enhance messaging and turn rational thoughts into emotional responses.
The principal founder of the firm that created Daisy, Bill Bernbach, has spoken openly about wanting to avoid playing it safe to ensure that the clip made an impact. If you stick with tried and tested ads, Bernbach explained, there is a risk of telling people what they already know and missing out on the opportunity to engage on a deeper level and stir up emotions (source).
Bernbach talked about advertising being an art, rather than a science and he strived to ensure that the campaign ads were persuasive because they played with human emotions.
5. Veering away from rational thinking
Daisy set a precedent for political advertising, which focused on emotional triggers, rather than rational thinking. The idea was to persuade the voter to cross the desired box because of the way they felt, rather than the information they may have had stored in their brains.
At the time Daisy was released, many people may have already watched speeches or read about policies in newspapers. The groundbreaking 60-second clip was designed to offer something different and to stoke an emotional reaction, which was separate from the rational thinking we use to work through policies or analyze data.
Telling a story was thought to be a more effective, impactful way of getting people to go out and vote for Johnson.
For writers, there are lessons to learn about triggering emotional responses and building on reactions to data, facts, figures and information. Customers, clients and voters want access to information, but often, veering away from rational thinking and prioritizing emotions will make the difference in terms of their behavior.
The Daisy advert used as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign in 1964 remains one of the most talked-about examples of political advertising.
Daisy was revolutionary because it was new, it was hard-hitting and it pulled at the emotions of the viewer.
There are valuable copywriting lessons to learn from this iconic clip, including using copy to trigger emotional reactions, understanding the power of fear, and using creativity to make an impact and ensure that ads stand out in the crowd and retain a place in the memory.