"Daisy Girl" was the name of the first political attack ad to appear on television in the United States. It ran for a few days in September 1964, paid for by the committee to elect Lyndon Johnson, and attacked Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. It is widely considered to be a significant turning point in American political history.
The commercial ran for thirty seconds. The first fifteen seconds depicted a young girl standing in a field of daisies, counting quietly to herself as she plucked the petals from a daisy she held in her hand. When she reached ten, a deep bass voice cut in and began a horrorific-sounding countdown: "10... 9... 8..." and so on as the camera zoomed in on a freeze frame of the girl, into the pupil of her right eye. Once the count reached zero, and the girl's pupil filled the entire screen, the image of a nuclear bomb detonating was shown, followed by the voice of President Johnson: "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all God's children can live, or to go in to the dark. We must either love each other or we must die." The screen fades to black, with only a few stark white words on the screen: Vote for President Johnson on November 3.
To understand the impact and the negativity of this ad, one must go back to the campaign of 1964 and look at Johnson's opponent in that race, Barry Goldwater. Barry was a very conservative Republican candidate known for his strong pro-militaristic views. The ad strongly implied that, given Goldwater's strong pro-military stance, he would lead our nation and thus our world into a nuclear war with the other superpower at the time, the USSR. It was brutally effective, and after it was pulled, Johnson went on to win the election rather handily.
Other visual cues were used in this ad to contribute to the negative feel. The commercial is shot in a stark black and white format at a time when color television was first in wide adoption; this choice lends itself strongly to the negative feel of the ad. The girl's voice is very childlike, complementing the image of innocence that she exudes; as a result, the image of the bomb blowing up in her eye comes off as extremely harsh, and thus casts Barry Goldwater in a very harsh light as well. This ad is still a bit unnerving to this day; in a day where negative ads were unheard of and a time in which fear of nuclear war was much higher than it is now, this ad must have come off like a shotgun blast.
Since this ad, negative campaign advertising has become almost an art form. Candidates now must maintain a balancing act of producing these kinds of "attack" ads and being prepared when the inevitable attacks from the opponent come, as well. It's clear that negative ads, because of their hostility and stronger emotional impact, are much more memorable to a viewer (and potential voter) than an ad praising a candidate. As a result, the number of negative ads has increased steadily with each passing presidential campaign, even as voters outcry their blatant tactics and misinformation schemes.
Every time you see a negative political ad with a call to your emotions, the groundwork was laid with this ad. Every time you see an unabashed attack by one candidate on another in advertisement form on television, the groundwork was laid with this ad. It helped to usher in the harsh political landscape of today, where the vast majority of political ads seek only to defame the opposing candidate.
If you would like to see the advertisement for yourself, there is a copy available at http://history.acusd.edu/gen/movies/daisygirl.html.