Perhaps one of the most memorable publicity stunts was when KISS "broke up" and following that each band member released a solo album.
If there's one thing we've learned from Gene Simmons Family Jewels, it's that Gene is the ultimate salesman. If you can think of it, he's probably sold it. Literally. It's as if he can't even help himself. If he could sell 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he probably would (and frankly he comes pretty close). So, to point out the obvious, if you're a hardworking person, that will probably help your cause.
The thing about KISS is that they have a larger-than-life image. They've got everything from personal makeup designs and space-age costumes to synchronized stage moves and even explosive pyrotechnics (and Gene Simmons' enormous tongue; how could we forget that). This band has created a loyal and dedicated fan base through controversy hard work and overindulgence endless touring. In turn, selling merchandise has become like shooting fish in a barrel for them (I don't get that idiom; fish are pretty darn slimey and slippery too).
So, really the first step to making band merch that sells is stirring up controversy in the headlines creating a memorable image, and then building a connected, loyal fan base. Without that, you could have all the coolest swag in the world (like life-size koa wood carvings of each band member) and not sell anything. Whatever merch you decide to carry, it should be congruent with your image and branding. It should make sense to you and your fans.
What else can you do to become big time sell-outs merch heroes like KISS? Here's what you do.
Create A Tribe: The KISS Army
The KISS Army is not an accident. It isn't just an ordinary fan club either. It's a genius marketing ploy engine.
To KISS, music and performance isn't just a means to and end or a one-time experience; it's a way of life. The band members are living, breathing examples of their own philosophy. The fans have also taken ownership of the KISS credo and some would gladly be buried in a KISS kasket. The fact of the matter is that your fans want to feel a part of what you do - a sense of belonging - so branding your tribe and mandating them a way of life is the way to get filthy stinking rich build loyalty. The KISS Army is a mass movement that brings people together.
People are paradoxical; as much as they whine and complain about groups, businesses, communities and organizations, they still choose to be a part of them. Unification only comes through a collective of likeminded individuals, so it's a necessary evil. Moreover, when it's good, it's good. Damn, I'm good.
Your fans have to feel like they are a part of the music you create and what you represent. They want to be co-creators in your rock 'n roll lifestyle (it certainly doesn't hurt that KISS fans can join the band and fellow soldiers on a luxurious KISS kruise).
Create A Recognizable and Marketable Brand
This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Though there certainly have been copycats, when you think of long-haired, face-painted, guitar-slinging freaks from the 70s, you think of KISS. Certainly, there are many memorable and recognizable elements within the band (their costumes, Gene's fire-breathing antics, Gene's tongue, etc.), but perhaps the most emulated is the makeup (and to a degree, hair) design.
Just go to their website and look at all the photos on the main page. The ticket-taker women in Osaka, Japan had their faces painted just like the band members (they don't look too happy about it though; Gene, did you force this upon them?). Various fans are wearing KISS merch and have their makeup done as well, and there's even a lady that has her nails painted with KISS designs.
The musicians in KISS are not bad, but by their own admission they're not as focused on the music as they are on the esthetic and overall image of the band. If you want to make it big like they did, you're going to want to find your own niche. The crossroads of talent and image/marketability is ideal if you want to take one from KISS' promo book. Marketability and personality is just as important as - if not more than - skill.
Diversify Your Merchandise Offerings
It should go without saying, but KISS has merchandised their brand to the nth degree (I'm all about the idioms today). What this means is that they have something for everyone. You may not be able to pull this off when you're on a budget and you're first getting started, but you can start asking your fans what kind of goods they'd like to see at your merch booth. If they say they want a petting zoo, though, they are probably in the minority and not to mention a little off-the-rocker (unless maybe your band name is Goat & Bunny Petting Zoo). The point is to think about the specific demographic and interests of your fans.
KISS has everything from masks, calendars, figurines, Bluetooth headphones, to cremation urns, comics, wall murals, collectible wine bottles and oh so much more. Those who own and wear KISS swag wear it proud.
Even if you don't have much in the way of resources right now, perhaps there are some ideas here you could take away and act on immediately. Don't write anything off until you've priced it out and you've identified what your fan base's wish list looks like.
What do you think? What makes KISS unique and why does their merch sell so well? Leave a comment and tell us, oh wise one!