Back when you could pause the picture on a good six-head VCR and still be able to clearly see the picture (and read the text), I discovered Chuck Lorre’s Vanity Cards.

Chuck Lorre is a TV producer who’s known for Cybill, Grace Under Fire, Rosanne, Dharma & Greg, and Two And A Half Men.

Starting with Dharma & Greg, Lorre wrote stream-of-consciousness “Vanity Cards” and inserted them for two seconds into the closing credits of each show.

Two seconds.

Flashed on the screen, then “poof.”


Here’s a typical Chuck Lorre Vanity Card:

February 8, 2000

“I was recently asked by a journalist why I write these vanity cards. It seemed like a simple enough question, but the truth is, I was stumped. Why do I write them? Not for money certainly, although I continue to hold out hope. Is it a creative exercise from which I derive great pleasure? Not really. I’ve always felt that the act of writing isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the feeling that comes from “having written.” So why do I do it? Well, after careful consideration I’ve come to believe that had I been even a moderately successful communicator in my formative years, I would feel little compulsion to communicate now. This leads me to wonder, would it have been appropriate to have told the journalist that I write these vanity cards because I was incapable of expressing myself as a youngster, a situation which caused me unbearable anguish and is only now beginning to dissipate? Maybe. But I didn’t. I told him I write them because it’s fun. And this leads me to a question: if he’s writing about my writing, what kind of miserable childhood did he have?”

An interesting thing happened as fans of Dharma & Greg (and later Two And A Half Men) became aware of those cards. Fans of the shows fired up their VCRs and taped each episode just so they could freeze the frame at the end and read Lorre’s latest musings.

We all felt like part of a club.

“We” got it.

“They” didn’t.

Poor “they.”

Of course, the advent of Tivo ® made it much easier to freeze the screen and read the Vanity Card.

Tivo ® is also how I found GE’s One Second Theatre.

Last May I was flipping my Tivo ® from live TV to recorded programming I noticed a change in the menu. There was a new choice called One Second Theatre. Being perpetually curious I clicked.

“We” got it again. We even called a few friends and helped spread the word. (Viral? Word-of-Mouth?)

Then last Sunday morning, during one of the network talking heads programs, a sponsorship ID stated “Brought to you in part by GE’s One Second Theatre. Inside every GE commercial there’s another dying to get out.

Here’s the link, if you’d like to read about One Second Theatre yourself.

This “hiding in plain sight” concept is a stunt.

Don’t confuse the technique for anything other than what it is, however. Chuck Lorre’s Vanity Card and GE’s One Second Theatre are stunts – done to attract the public’s attention to the promoters or their causes.

Stunts to gain the attention of the media are at least as old as P.T. Barnum who hitched an elephant to a plow to announce the circus was in town.

Some stunts are expensive, like Oprah’s Pontiac giveaway, or Howard Stern handing out 500 free satellite radios.

Others, like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal taking jabs at each other through the media are relatively inexpensive.

Then there are the stunts that “go wrong.” Oh, they got attention, but not the way the promoters intended.

Like the audio boxes attached to the distribution racks of the L.A. Times which were supposed to play the theme song from Mission Impossible III. The Times said the stunt was intended to transform the “everyday news rack experience” into an “extraordinary mission.” People buying newspapers thought they’d spotted bombs. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department arson squad was called in to distroy the boxes.

There are those who will insist that there is no bad publicity, but c’mon. In today’s culture, how could box office sales possibly be improved by associating threats to their lives with your movie in the minds of theatre patrons?

Stunts achieve publicity because they intrigue, delight, and surprise Broca. None of them are long-term marketing techniques (even though GE managed to get their copy points into my short-term memory).

Back to our original two examples.

  • Chuck Lorre is a writer and producer of comedy. His Vanity Cards have reinforced his image as a guy who writes and produces funny, entertaining material. Lorre is going to have to push the envelope soon to retain that image, though, since he’s been repeating the same stunt for nine years, now.
  • GE’s One Second Theatre reinforces GE’s ecomagination commitment to the ecology. Now to keep people talking GE needs new content. How many times will you watch the same two television advertisements? How many friends do you have left to tell?
  • As I said, a stunt isn’t good long-term strategy, but it can have value if the central idea reinforces the image of the entity proforming the stunt.

    Are there stunts you should be planning?

    What can you do to capture the imagination of the public?

    What will people remember?

    Will that memory reinforce the image you wish to plant in the minds of prospective shoppers?

    What will you do if something goes wrong?