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LSU's Reilly Center to Host Retrospective on Landmark in Presidential Campaign Ads

The image remains impactful nearly 50 years later. A young girl in a meadow counts off the petals as she picks them from a daisy. Suddenly, the countdown takes on a more sinister voice, the young girl looks up and the audience is greeted by the blinding flash of a nuclear explosion. "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live. Or to go into the dark."

In addition to writing the book "Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad that Changed American Politics," Robert Mann also had a lecture in his political communication class filmed for the CSPAN series "Lectures in History."
Eddy Perez/University Relations

The 60-second commercial made a clear-cut delineation between the 1964 presidential campaigns of Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, and it is one that remains talked about in the advertising community today.

On Monday, Oct. 24, LSU's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs and LSU Press will host a retrospective on the infamous "Daisy Girl" ad, to be held at the Manship School of Mass Communication's Journalism Building at 5 p.m.

The event is open to the public and will feature a panel discussion moderated by Manship School Dean Jerry Ceppos and including Professor and Reilly Center Co-Director Robert Mann and special guests:

  • Monique Luiz, the Daisy Girl. Luiz, who was three years old when she starred in the spot, famously plucked flower petals before a countdown triggered a nuclear explosion. The forum will be Luiz's first public appearance to discuss her role in this historic campaign commercial.
  • Sidney Myers, creative director of the spot and former senior art director for Doyle Dane Bernbach, the advertising firm that created and produced the spot.

Mann is the author of "Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad that Changed American Politics," which will be released by LSU Press in October.

"It's one of those legendary moments in political campaign history," Mann said of his motivations behind the book. "And I just had this sense that there was more to it than what was already out there, and I felt it deserved a deeper treatment."

Mann, who will sign copies of the book following the symposium, is a veteran of the political communication business, having served on the staffs of former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and U.S. Sens. John Breaux and Russell Long. With the help of blogger and cultural historian Bill Geerhart, who had already done some extensive research on the ad spot for his blog CONELRAD.com, Mann contacted Luiz, whose life had been relatively anonymous since the commercial.

Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs

An integral part of LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication, the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs promotes greater understanding and cooperation between the academic world and practical politics. Its mission is to generate thoughtful programs, dialogue and research about mass communication and its many-faceted relationships with social, economic and political issues. The Reilly Center uses the intellectual muscle of the school's faculty to help address practical problems and advance good-government initiatives.

Evident in everything the center does is its commitment to strengthen and advance the Manship School's national leadership in media and politics. The center's agenda is diverse and fluid – from the annual John Breaux Symposium, which hosts national experts to discuss a topic that has received little or no attention, to conducting the annual Louisiana Survey, a vital resource for policymakers that tracks advancements and regressions of citizen attitudes about state issues and services. Its action-oriented and partnership-driven philosophy underscores the Reilly Center's dedication to tackling ideas and issues that explore the relationship of media and the public in democratic society.

"I considered myself very fortunate to have been a part of the Daisy Ad," said Luiz, who currently resides in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I'm just amazed that I could have been a part of it. Bob's book has made me aware of this fact."

Luiz had done a few other small commercials and print advertisements, but had no memory of the one that has stood the test of time.

"I have some memories of a field of flowers, a picnic and a limousine but cannot be sure it is the same field or even the ad," she explained. "Growing up my family did not talk about the ad a lot; they got a lot of backlash for allowing me to be in it."

"Peace, Little Girl," the original title of the ad, ran once as a paid advertisement on NBC, on the evening of Monday, Sept. 7, 1964. The spot was likely viewed by as many as 50 million people that night and by another 50 million, who by week's end saw it replayed on the network news broadcasts.

"This one 60-second spot, aired only once, dramatically changed the way Democrats and Republicans ran for president," said Mann. "It and the other spots that LBJ ran against Barry Goldwater in 1964 transformed political advertising. The Daisy Girl spot was really the first television spot of the modern political era and its impact is still with us."

Mann has previously discussed the spot, alongside other early political commercials in a lecture in his political communications that was filmed for an episode of C-SPAN television series "Lectures in History," earlier this year. The network will also film the symposium for a special.

"This really was an innovation," said Mann, explaining that in the early 1960s many candidates were still relying on speeches and buying large segments of airtime on the national networks. "These 30 and 60-second spots were beginning to outweigh those blocks of time. I want our students to think about how the world of political communication has changed. We're not always appealing to people's rational sides anymore. This ad was where candidates began to target emotions."

For more information about the Daisy Girl panel, please contact Emily Tiller of the Reilly Center at 225 578-7312, etille1@lsu.edu or visit lsu.edu/reillycenter.