SAN FRANCISCO – Revisiting one of the most effective television commercials in the annals of U.S. politics, a grassroots anti-war group has produced a remake of the "Daisy" ad, warning that a war against Iraq could spark nuclear Armageddon.
The provocative 30-second commercial — released to the media Wednesday and appearing in 12 major U.S. cities on Thursday at a cost of $400,000, was prepared with the help of thousands of donations to the Internet-based group MoveOn.org.
The original Daisy ad aired only once, during the 1964 presidential race. Produced by the campaign of incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, it depicted a 6-year-old girl plucking petals from a daisy — along with a missile launch countdown and then a nuclear mushroom cloud. The suggestion was that if elected president, Republican Barry Goldwater might lead the United States to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Goldwater lost by a wide margin.
The 2003 version follows the same format, with an added montage of scenes of military escalation: burning oil wells, tanks in the battlefield, wounded soldiers, chaotic protests in a foreign city and an ambulance racing through U.S. streets. Then, a similar mushroom cloud, and the screen goes to black, with a dire warning: "War with Iraq. Maybe it will end quickly. Maybe not. Maybe it will spread. Maybe extremists will take over countries with nuclear weapons. Maybe the unthinkable."
Then, another "10... 9... 8...," countdown, and a final message: "Maybe that's why the overwhelming majority of Americans say to President Bush: let the inspections work."
MoveOn.org's leaders hope the ad will enliven the debate on the specter of war — and persuade Americans to oppose a military solution in Iraq.
"We're playing with matches in a tinderbox," Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org's international campaign director said. "We wanted to run an ad that would highlight that very real possibility and help encourage a national discussion about the consequences of war."
But some experts on the media questioned whether the spot, created by Zimmerman & Markman, a political consulting and advertising firm based in Santa Monica, will be effective.
"It's more of a news ad designed to get media attention," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.
But she said the ad sends a mixed message, by both suggesting that Iraq already has nuclear weapons, and urging more inspections to find them. "If they are trying to persuade opinions the ad is flawed."
Likewise, Barbara O'Connor, the director of California State University's Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media warned that viewers may tune out rather than engage with such horrific images.
But both Jamieson and O'Connor noted that the original Daisy ad received huge news coverage after it aired forty years ago — and has since become an icon of negative political advertising.
MoveOn.org also organized an online signature campaign against the war, and spent more than $300,000 on newspaper ads in December that also called on President Bush to "Let the Inspections Work."
The group was founded in San Francisco by several Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in 1998 to lobby against the impeachment of President Clinton, and has a related political action committee that funneled campaign donations to the few members of Congress who voted against authorizing military force against Iraq. Its name comes from its original message: "Censure and move on."