“YOU wanted the best, YOU got the best. The hottest band in the world…” Lights go out. Explosions, fire, spotlights, screaming guitars, and the official rock ‘n’ roll circus has begun. There is nothing like a Kiss concert. Nothing.
Kiss has been nominated for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, class of 2014. They’ve built the biggest brand in rock that’s lasted over 40 years, in a business that doesn’t tolerate consistency and longevity. They outsell the Beatles and Elvis combined. Kiss mastered and defined the art of Show Business. It is a show, and they understand business. I hope they get selected. Here’s why.
Ideation. Born out of a need to differentiate, they took the theatrics of Alice Cooper and the NY punk scene to a different level. The music would interweave an over-the-top stage performance and never become predictable or lack emotion. Each member would have a role in the show. The sum would be greater than the parts.
Personality. Four well defined personas were developed and played out at all times. The Demon, the Starchild, the Spaceman, the Catman – each part of their personality on emotional display through make-up and costume. Gene Simmons was more than a bass player, he became God of Thunder, a fire eating, blood spitting, tongue thrashing, demon. The group interacted and stood apart from one another, highlighting their own show within a show.
Marketing. Everything they did was integrated. The robust in-your-face attitude was matched on all items from album covers to lunch boxes. They sold the “greatest show on earth” and lived up to that tagline in every performance. The make-up hid their real identities and gave a sense of mystery to the band. The audience followed the persona, not the actual person. They guarded the Kiss brand tightly, and expanded into a wealth of cross-branding promotions. See swag.
Sales. They’re one of the biggest selling bands in the world. Just music sales alone, they’ve sold more than 40 million albums in the US. Worldwide record sales exceed 100 million – merchandise sales exceed a half Billion dollars over the last fifteen years.
Swag. Seriously? They have over 2,500 licenses of merchandise. More than a band, they’re a merchandising machine. From Hello Kitty with make-up on the kitties to a miniture-golf course in Las Vegas. No other artist in history has cross-branded themselves more successfully than Kiss. Comic books, action figures, condoms to caskets. Yes, heaven is on fire. The band understands the competition for attention, and they want to be out in front. As Gene Simmons mentioned in a Forbes article “How many products do you think Disney has out there?..See, there is no such thing as too many.”
Longevity. From 1973 to 2013 the Kiss empire has grown, changed, and grown more. From the early make-up beginnings in the 70’s, to the plain faces of the 80’s (complete with knee pads so they could slide easily on stage), to the resurgence of full make-up in the 90’s and beyond. They’ve kept the show consistent for years, and at this point, going to a Kiss show is like touring the haunted mansion at Disney World – it’s a safe trip through blood and fire, that ends happily ever after.
When Paul Stanley, standing in platform shoes and looking skinny in spandex, attached himself to cables and flew over my head with guitar singing a Love Gun encore, my friend looked at me and said “do you realize he’s pushing 60?”
Music. Yes, they can play. They’ve been awarded 28 Gold albums to date including their solo albums. The most gold albums of any American rock band. Six hits reached the top 20. This conversation has always been the elephant in the room. Does their commercialism out weigh their music chops? In a word, no. They’ve got plenty of songs that fit the rock ‘n’ roll bill, take you up and bring you down. It’s rock. It works. If your songs are worth being played in NFL stadiums, to get the crowd pumped, you belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
One thing is certain, Kiss is a well integrated brand that has defined rock and roll and pop culture for over 40 years. If they don’t get voted in, they should just build their own smoke filled, fire shooting, Hall of Fame, because no one knows how to promote Kiss, like they do.