President Johnson’s daisy petals and mushroom clouds TV ad targeting Barry Goldwater only aired once officially during 1964 campaign. But it’s now recognized as one of the most iconic campaign ads of all time — with its influence on political advertising clearly evident today.
The story behind the ad reveals just how bold and transformative it was, Louisiana State University communications professor Robert Mann told ABC News’ “Top Line.” Mann is the author of “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics.”
“It was an unusual way to start a presidential campaign. It was the first spot of that campaign by Johnson, going hard negative on Goldwater, but he wanted a mandate, and he wanted to go after Goldwater’s vulnerability, which was Goldwater’s reckless talk about nuclear war and nuclear weapons,” said Mann.
The ad essentially created a new genre of political communications that would appeal to the emotion of viewers, not just their intellect, he said. It was seen by 50 million people the night it aired, and likely another 50 million people when it was featured on network newscasts later that week.
All told roughly 80 percent of the electorate saw Johnson’s message, said Mann.
“This was the first creative use of political advertising. Before this campaign that Johnson embarked on in 1964, presidential campaigns and politicians in general didn’t advertise themselves using creative advertising principals. They basically used abbreviated versions of their campaign speeches,” he said.
“This is the beginning of what we see in political campaigns, appealing to emotion, and particularly the emotion of fear.”
Mann said he believes the time is ripe for another revolution in campaign advertising, possibly emerging during the 2012 campaign, as producers look to break from a “very formulaic” look of recent ads to make their candidate’s message pop.