A young girl stands alone in a field, counting as she plucks the petals off a daisy. The camera zooms in on her angelic face, and her soft voice is overpowered by a booming male bass, counting down from 10. The disembodied voice reaches zero just as one of her fathomless pupils consumes the screen. Out of the blackness, images of nuclear Armageddon explode.
This infamous scene was part of a political advertisement (called “Daisy”) so shocking that it was aired only once by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign before being pulled.
Universally used by every party and every candidate, the political advertisement is one of American politics’ most versatile staples.
Many older Americans will remember Daisy’s startling imagery and the profound impact the commercial had on the 1964 U.S. presidential race.
Fueled by polarizing campaign issues, and changes in finance laws making it easier for third-party organizations (industry groups, labor groups, Super PACs, etc.) to receive funding, the 2012 presidential race is taking full advantage of this go-to election tool. The past few months alone have spawned dozens of 30-second spots designed to capture voters’ attention and sway their opinions.
In every ad, a story
Even in grainy black and white, Daisy delivered a potent punch to the campaign of Barry Goldwater, Johnson’s opponent in 1964.
Yet, it presented no facts, cited no statistics, and did nothing to appeal to the rational side of human thinking.
McKown says that a well-crafted political ad doesn’t waste time trying to inspire logic in its viewers. “Humans are not rational decision-makers, we’re storytellers. We make choices based on stories,” he points out.
The goal may be to tell the life story of a candidate, to make the public aware of a particular issue, to define an opponent, or to fire up an existing voter base, but a good ad always addresses these themes with a gripping narrative.
Compelling images, emotional music, and a fine-tuned script strive to tug at the heartstrings or embolden the spirit of a target audience. The creators of political propaganda don’t want voters to think—they want them to feel.
Decoding Political Ads: The Stories Behind the Scare Tactics originally appeared on AgingCare.com.