You may or may not have read the obituary of the late Tony Schwartz, who died Saturday, June 14 of this year. Credited by many as the father of fear-based political campaign advertising, and fear-based commercial advertising for his role in the creation of the infamous Daisy Ad, further examination of the man’s life and legacy revealed the commercial was less about deception and more about real fears held by the public and the man behind the ad.
The daisy ad is so purely fear-based it’s almost comical when viewed in a modern context, but we see it through a lens jaded by such tactics—overexposed to messages falsely assuring our destruction if we don’t buy product x or vote for candidate y.
The daisy ad, in its day, demonstrated real fears held by Americans of nuclear destruction, justified by the Cuban Missile Crisis (which preceded the ad by a couple years), shaky relations with the Soviet Union (otherwise known as the Cold War), and the corresponding arms race. The arms race was particularly scary to everyone because both Russia and the United States had created atomic weapons with immense destructive power—making the A-bombs of Nagasaki and Hiroshima look like puny Molotov cocktails, by comparison.
The ad promoted the election of Lyndon B Johnson because his opponent, Barry Goldwater, was, to many, nuclear war personified. He was well documented as being a psychologically unstable proponent of nuclear combat. History has shown the 50’s and 60’s as being the time in which America and Russia came closest to pushing the button. Had America not elected presidents opposed to using nukes in general, the unthinkable may have happened. The fear behind the Daisy Ad was real, and the ad told no lies. The ad may have saved the world, literally, as Barry Goldwater, in 1964, supported the use of “low yield nuclear bombs” in Vietnam for deforestation, to remove the dense foliage cover that made the North Vietnamese army so difficult to defeat.
Instead of nukes, Vietnam was deforested with less deadly Agent Orange and napalm bombings. Had Goldwater been elected and decided to use nukes on Vietnam, would Russia have retaliated by supplying the Viet Cong with their own nuclear arsenal? Most certainly, yes. This inevitable chain of events suggests the Daisy Ad was a highly accurate representation of a future without Lyndon B. Johnson elected as president in 1964.
Tony Schwartz was anything but an ad guy in a suit behind a desk thinking of great ways to coerce vulnerable minds with clever advertising tactics. He was a sound guy—a genius “savant” of sorts, who’s primary passion was sound recording, both individual and organic. He was credited as being the pioneer of using actual children’s voices in media rather than adults acting like children. Neither his crippling agoraphobia nor claustrophobia prevented Mr. Schwartz from creating the first anti-smoking ad in history. Schwartz conceptualized the Daisy Ad phonetically, but is credited as the sole creator of the concept as a whole.
Tony Schwartz was a man personally affected by phobias of all sorts, even handicapped by them. His fear of nuclear war translated into the ad that transformed the advertising industry, presidential campaigning, and may have saved the world.