There is no time to be tactful

For fans of Mad Men it will prove difficult to learn of the story behind ‘Peace, Little Girl‘ – a brutal 60 second television spot which first aired on September 7, 1964 – and not imagine the offices of Sterling Cooper. The ad was conceived by agency Doyle Dane Bernbach on behalf of President Lyndon Johnson, in an effort to kill off Republican candidate Barry Goldwater‘s march to the White House. DDB, desperate for success with their first political client, threw 40 of their best men at the campaign and chose to aim for the jugular by capitalising on comments Goldwater had previously made concerning nuclear weapons. The following letter was written by DDB co-founder and legendary ad-man Bill Bernbach just months before the election, at a time when Goldwater had managed to regain the public’s confidence and the DNC had started to drag their heels. The ad had not yet been aired and Bernbach had no option but to lay it on the line. It was broadcast on NBC just weeks later.

Such was the impact of the TV spot that only once did the DNC pay for it to be broadcast. It remains one of the most controversial – and successful – ads of all time.

Read the full, fascinating story at CONELRAD.

Transcript follows.


August 17, 1964

Honorable Bill D. Moyers
Special Assistant to the President
The Whitehouse
Washington, D.C.

Dear Bill:

If a decision isn’t taken immediately to activate the television advertising plans, there might be serious consequences to the campaign. This is no time for me to be tactful with you. There is too much at stake.

No one knows better than you why we took on the Presidential campaign. There is only one reason. We are ardent Democrats who are deadly afraid of Goldwater and feel that the world must be handed a Johnson landslide. To play our small part in the achievement of such a victory we risked the possible resentment of some of our giant Republican clients (I personally told one it was none of his business when he phoned me about our action) and we had to turn away companies who wanted to give us their accounts on a long term basis. Two of the other agencies you were considering withdrew out of fear of their clients. A third agency blithely withdrew and took the Goldwater account.

I tell you all this only to emphasize that we are dedicated people and that our recommendations have a single motivation, not how much money can Doyle Dane Bernbach make, but what is necessary to do the job well. For anyone in your organization who is not a communications expert to pass on our plan is a great mistake. The decision must be made on the same basis that Secretary McNamara said the Defense budget decision was made: “What arms do we need to be the strongest nations in the world. Then, and only then, see how we can achieve our goal.” Our plans were made with expert knowledge of what it takes to saturate the nation with the Democratic message. Ignorance in these matters can lead to waste and even disaster.

It is dangerous to think that because Lyndon Johnson is the President of the United States, he will get enough exposure through news coverage to assure him election in November. I don’t have to remind you that an exposure on TV or radio or a quote in the nation’s press is not necessarily a call to action.

The recommendation, at the volume originally agreed upon, was set as a maximum effort – an ideal campaign. The thought being to permit you to trim where necessary in the interest of political or financial necessity.

I understand you now feel we should suspend all ordering and production on everything we have recommended except the network time already purchased.

We consider the local spot TV and spot radio as absolutely essential to the goal of commanding the necessary share of mind required to get the vote we need for President Johnson in November.

I refer you to the attached media flow chart. Everything not currently on non cancellable order with the networks is crossed out in red. It is immediately apparent that the remaining schedule is grossly inadequate for the eight week period of the campaign. The stakes are just too high to neglect taking maximum advantage of a medium that reaches 92.5% of all homes in the United States. There is no denying the influence television had on the last election; and in 1964 there are 8,550,000 more television sets in use in this country than there were in 1960.

I urgently request that you reconsider and permit us to proceed on the original recommendation at once. If it is necessary to make some adjustment because of financial necessity we will work with you on making a realistic adjustment. The need for immediate action can’t be expressed too strongly. Assuming agreement on a spot TV and spot radio schedule next week, and assuming the necessary money being released for use at the same time, the earliest nationwide air date we can make would be the third week of September. This is inflexible. The simple logistics of purchasing, production and shipping preclude any miracles in shortening the time needed.

We agreed that a very necessary part of the campaign is that part devoted to exposing to the voting public the absurd, contradictory and dangerous nature of the opposition candidate. It was agreed that this part of the campaign should be undertaken immediately following our Convention. It is already apparent that Barry Goldwater is making every effort to adjust his extreme position to one more acceptable. Knowing the short memory of the average person, it is entirely possible he might succeed in creating a new character for himself if we are unable to remind people of the truth about this man.

If a decision is delayed until after the Convention, it is obvious that the action resulting from that decision might be “too little and too late.”

I urge your immediate attention to this important matter.


William Bernbach