Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Attack Ad Pioneer Dies at 88

On June 15, Tony Schwartz -- the media consultant responsible for the famous "Daisy ad" (above) in the 1964 presidential campaign -- died at age 88. Schwartz was a pioneer. His famous ad, in the words of political reporter Dick Polman, was "the first TV attack ad in American political history, and thus blazed a trail for all the negative craftsmen who have flourished ever since." President Lyndon Johnson's campaign hired Schwartz to create the advertisement, a 60-second spot that showed a freckle-faced little girl in a meadow, picking the petals off of a daisy, with blue skies and birds chirping all around her. Suddenly, a ringing voice (with a southern drawl) on a loudspeaker begins counting down from 10. The camera zooms in on the girl's eye and . . . BOOM! A mushroom cloud fills the television screen. Then LBJ's voice comes on and says, "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." It closes with an announcer saying, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."

The ad aired once (September 7). LBJ's campaign pulled it from the airwaves after facing a firestorm of criticism. But the damage was done. The impact was profound. And for the past 44 years, the advertisement has been studied as a key early attack ad. The ad didn't mention Senator Barry Goldwater (right), LBJ's Republican opponent, but viewers understood the ad's implication: If Goldwater wins, a global nuclear war is inevitable.

And what of its creator, Tony Schwartz? According to a fascinating Washington Post obituary on him, he was a reclusive man who suffered from agoraphobia and absolutely loathed going outside. In addition to the "Daisy ad," he is famous for his use of different sounds in advertising, including nature (hence, the chirping birds in the "Daisy ad"), children's voices and devices such as cash registers and foghorns. At the time of his "Daisy ad," he was with the Doyle Dane Bernbach agency. Since then, he has had several teaching gigs and written two books.

The "Daisy ad" was really his 15 minutes of fame, though. As Dick Polman noted, Schwartz created the attack ad prototype. It was only a short matter of time before Republicans, too, mastered the art and put such ads to even more effective use than their Democratic foes. Up until his death on June 15, Schwartz was proud of his 60-second masterpiece. Indeed, the world of politics would never be the same after his Frankenstein's monster was unleashed on America's airwaves.

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