For anyone who grew up during the 1970s, it was impossible to avoid the rock music group KISS. Love them or hate them, they were everywhere—on t-shirts, lunch boxes, pinball machines, hats, posters, action figures, key chains—you name it. The dearly departed can even do one last rocking encore courtesy of a KISS casket or urn.
It was almost easy to forget that music was KISS’ line of work, as it seemed to take a back seat to the grandiose, the bombast, the theatrics and spectacle that accompanied the quartet’s brand. And what a brand it was and remains; bassist/demon egoist Gene Simmons—whose marketing savvy may stretch farther that his legendary tongue—assigned the KISS logo to damn near anything imaginable, as long as it promised profits. More often than not, he was right.
As a group of performing artists, KISS has undergone some major overhauls during its tenure, which kicked off in 1972. Inspired by the glam influence provided by the New York Dolls and the pounding, hard-driving rock insanity offered by bands like The Who, KISS used Kabuki-style makeup, pyrotechnics and a high level of energy to pull in fans, but disenfranchise critics.
Naturally, the band found many bumps in the road to success. Original members Peter Criss and Ace Frehley left the group in the late 1970s/early 1980s and the makeup came off a few years later. After a slew of hits throughout the ’80s, a procession of guitarists came and went, and drummer Eric Carr died of cancer. Criss and Frehley returned for a reunion in the 1990s, only to be reminded of why they skedaddled in the first place. The band endures to this day, however; its 20th studio album, “Monster,” was released last month.
But while the face of KISS has changed throughout its 40 years, the marketing express train has roared incessantly. And, now the larger-than-life band that brought us anthem hits “Rock and Roll All Nite,” “Beth,” “I Was Made For Lovin’ You” and “Detroit Rock City”—not to mention used the blood of band members in its iconic 1970s comic books—has raised the bar for marketing excellence. The “KISS Monster Book” (First Light Publishing) eclipses all coffee-table publications.