Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds – Book review

Imagine an episode of Mad Men in which a newly formed, highly creative group of rule-breakers decide to forge new territory and enter the world of presidential campaigning. This is precisely the world Robert Mann, Manship Chair in Journalism at LSU and occasional 225 contributing writer, reveals in his recent book about the “Daisy Girl” ad, the influential political spot that not only solidified Lyndon Johnson’s trouncing of Barry Goldwater in 1964 but also gave birth to modern media campaigns.

In lieu of meticulously researched costuming and props, Mann sets the stage for this Madison Avenue drama using public opinion poll data and elements of popular culture to show a generation living in constant fear of nuclear war.

The cast of characters is ridiculously colorful: A presidential candidate wanting not just victory, but a mandate; a close advisor and former Baptist preacher hellbent on destroying his opponent through unsavory strategies; a cutting-edge advertising firm; an agoraphobic sound specialist; a child actress’s naďve parents.

There’s even a cameo role for Ronald Reagan.

Mann strikes a teetering balance between offering loads of footnoted facts and compelling narrative. In doing so, he broadens his audience to include readers, casual or academic, interested in politics, advertising, psychology and American history.