By MIKE CHAIKEN
Kiss may be known for singing “I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day.” But the four-man group also can add “I wanna excel at marketing all night and branding every day.”
The heavy metal band that traces its origins in New York City have long been kings of self-promotion.
Kiss has embarked on a years-long tour to wrap up their career, and that tour comes to the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on March 23.
Kiss’s love for marketing and branding established itself even before they signed a record deal when then-guitarist Ace Frehley doodled out a logo that continues to signify the band. (In 2008, the U.K.’s New Musical Express included the Kiss logo in its list of the “50 most beautiful band logos.”)
The makeup worn by the four (Gene Simmons as the Demon, Paul Stanley as the Starchild, Ace Frehley as The Spaceman, and Peter Criss as the Catman) also is instantly recognizable as Kiss. Again, the band knew the importance of branding.
For serious music fans, however, the efforts of Kiss to consciously sell records and concert tickets flew in the face of the mood at the time. After the Summer of Love in 1967, fans of rock music worshipped the genre as “art.” And when Kiss arrived in the mid-1970s, this mind-set was firmly entrenched.
Kiss wasn’t the first musical entity to engage in branding. Four years earlier, the Rolling Stones introduced their familiar logo of fulsome lips and tongue. The Beatles emblazoned Ringo Starr’s drums with a familiar logo for fans.
But, these efforts were seen as less threatening, less aggressive, and less of a sell-out.
However, Kiss took a page out of Madison Avenue. The band was in your face about marketing themselves. Their logo and their makeup had more in common with Coca Cola than Bob Dylan.
Kiss put their logo and caricatures of their faces on just about everything. There were the requisite t-shirts, of course. But there also were lunch boxes. There were action figures. There even was a Kiss comic book made with “real Kiss blood” (drops were mixed into the red ink).
In 2019, there are Kiss coffins and condoms.
Again, Kiss wasn’t the first band to sell tchotchkes. The Beatles had wigs, dolls, trading cards, etc.
But the Beatles never had a say in what souvenirs were created. Kiss has always had a say in their merchandise.
Gene Simmons told Forbes in 2012, “Kiss is an enormous brand, and certainly the biggest rock brand in history. We outsell The Beatles and Elvis combined… But, Kiss is very guarded where and when we lend our name to.”
Kiss long ago figured out that if you want to be remembered you have to be noticed in the first place.
Now, none of this seems odd in 2019. Artists regularly license their music out for commercials within minutes of a song’s release. Most bands tour with a corporate sponsor. And most artists would give their right ear to have Apple use their music in a marketing campaign.
Musically, as one looks back on Kiss’s career, they also were unexpectedly iconic.
They knew how to ride the wave of what was popular. When volume was king and Ziggy Stardust played guitar in the 1970s, Kiss turned their amps up to 11, strapped on the platform boots, and slathered on the makeup. When disco’s beat ruled the roost, they added a thumping metronomic drum beat to their trademark loud guitars, subsequently securing one of the biggest hits of their career (“I Was Made For Lovin’ You”). When the volume of hair rose in the 1980s, they pulled out the hairspray, wiped off the make-up and perfected the art of the power ballad (“Tears Are Falling,” “Hide Your Heart”). And when the original now aging Kiss Army started feeling nostalgia for the good old days, the band rounded up its original members and the grease paint returned.
This year, Kiss—which still includes Simmons and Stanley, aided and abetted by Eric Singer on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar—- has taken another page out of the marketing textbook. They are staging their farewell tour (despite the fact they said goodbye once before in 2000). It is slated to last a couple of years.
In a press release about the tour, Kiss said, “This will be the ultimate celebration for those who’ve seen us and a last chance for those who haven’t. Kiss Army, we’re saying goodbye on our final tour with our biggest show yet and we’ll go out the same way we came in… Unapologetic and Unstoppable.”
But when the lights go out for the last time on this tour, Kiss may not stay a memory for long.
Paul Stanley told Billboard in mid-2018 that it is conceivable that the makeup, costumes, and music could return at a date to be determined but this time without the benefit of Stanley’s and Simmons’ presence.
Perhaps, given that hint of things to come, fans should not say farewell to Simmons and Stanley and crew. They may be better off with a fond, “Till we meet again.”
Kiss is coming to the Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville on Saturday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. for their “End of the Road” tour. For more information, go to MoheganSun.com or KissOnLine.com.
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver.com.