The first spot envisioned by the ad firm was only sixty seconds long and was named simply “Peace, Little Girl.” The original DDB script for this spot does not appear to be among the papers of the DNC on file at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, but in its ultimate form it was very simple.
DDB envisioned an innocent little girl in a sun-splashed field, with the sound of birds chirping in the background. In her hands, the little girl held a daisy. In her own voice, she would be counting as she plucked the petals, “One . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . seven . . . six . . . six . . . eight . . . nine . . . nine.” At the end of her count, the girl would look up, somewhat startled, as if she had heard a distant sound. The camera would freeze on the girl’s face and move into an extreme close-up of her eye, as another voice abruptly entered the spot.
As if being broadcast from a loudspeaker at a missile test site, this man would begin counting down in an urgent tone: “Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one.”
At that point, the camera would quickly zero in on the girl’s dark eye, which would fill the screen, now replaced with the sound and visual fury of a sudden atomic bomb explosion.
As the fiery mushroom cloud consumed the screen, Johnson’s voice would enter the spot: “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.”
While it is not likely the idea for the Daisy Girl spot originated in the White House, it is apparent that Johnson and his aides, during the late spring and summer of 1964, grew increasingly open to the idea of a devastating attack on Goldwater for his statements and positions regarding nuclear war.
Creating a spot to graphically and effectively communicate Johnson’s view of Goldwater’s recklessness was on the minds of DDB copywriters and art directors in the summer when they contacted a well-regarded, reclusive New York sound man to consult with them on about a half-dozen television spots.
Tony Schwartz was a forty-year-old Manhattan-born artist and ad man whose long-held fascination with sound had earned him a reputation as a wizard of sound and sound effects. Famously agoraphobic, Schwartz rarely left his Hell’s Kitchen home alone. Those who desired his services came to him. Hundreds of corporate and political clients made the trek to see Schwartz, not just because of his groundbreaking work with sound, but because of his belief in using emotions rather than rational appeals to persuade. Schwartz was also the first advertising man to use real children’s voices in his ads, a distinction that undoubtedly attracted the attention of DDB executives as they conceived the “Peace Little Girl” spot.
Sometime in the summer of 1964, DDB executives contacted Schwartz. “They had an approach for a five-minute spot on the nuclear war issue,” Schwartz later recalled, “with voices counting down in English and Russian; they wanted to know what to do for a sixty-second version.”
Schwartz, who was fascinated with the sound of numbers, had produced radio and TV spots that featured countdowns. In 1962, Schwartz produced a nuclear disarmament PSA for the United Nations in which a child (his nephew) counted out a series of numbers, followed by an adult who counted down, NASA-style, before the sound of an atomic blast.
When the DDB team visited Schwartz’s home, he played them the raw tape of his nephew counting. “We heard it and it was so striking and then we said, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be great,’” Myers later recalled.
What happened next is a point of contention between Schwartz and DDB that continued until Schwartz’s death in June 2008. Schwartz always maintained that he conceived the spot and was the driving force behind its production. In a letter to the New York Times in 2000, Schwartz described himself as “the creator of the original ‘Daisy’ advertisement in 1964” and, in defending the spot, referred to “my own ad.”