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On the (platform) heels of a successful reunion tour, the shock-rock group Kiss is now aiming to establish an entertainment brand that will endure into the next century.

The band next year kicks off the "Kiss Psycho Circus" marketing concept, centered on the first new album from its original members in 12 years and a two-year world tour.

Conceived by Kiss and executed by Mercury Records and Sony Signatures, "Psycho Circus" is an attempt to create a pop mythology that can change with the times but remain rooted in a core image that's two decades old. In some ways, the effort resembles the strategy Saban Entertainment has employed to sustain its Mighty Morphin Power Rangers property, using a new theme for the franchise to leverage.


In fact, a recently launched "Kiss Psycho Circus" comic book series from Image Comics is serving as a laboratory for next year's album of the same name, as well as licensed products, concerts and a pre-show carnival.

The new Kiss mythology re-imagines the band as a superhero group, each possessing unique powers, weapons, vehicles-even pets. The makeup will stay the same, but new costumes and even new characters are in the works.

The successful recent Kiss Alive tour, which began in late 1996, was fueled by rampant '70s nostalgia.

Kiss didn't want to create "an explosion that would dissipate, but one that would form a new world going into the future," said Joseph Bongiovi, Sony Signatures' senior director-domestic licensing.

Sony Signatures' merchandising campaign has earned accolades from the licensing and retail trade. The property was named license of the year by retailer Spencer Gifts. The products from McFarlane Toys were voted as one of the "Top Toy Picks" at this year's International Toy Fair.


The collection of Kiss licensed products includes action figures, blankets, puzzles, face masks and a non-alcoholic grape beverage packaged like wine with collectible labels.

Concertgoers bought $20 million of Kiss merchandise during the reunion tour, while retail sales are expected to top $10 million in 1997.

Kids have taken to the property, but the Kiss revival business is primarily marketed to adults. Much of the merchandise is positioned as collectibles, with some priced upwards of $1,000, including limited edition 3-D wall art portraits, signed and numbered by each band member, that sell for $919.96 each.

Still, mass merchandisers like Target Stores and Wal-Mart Stores have yet to join the Kiss bandwagon.

"I think they were a little afraid of the property. They don't quite understand it yet," said Jeannie Dyer, senior manager-marketing retail, Sony Signatures.


Winning over those retailers is critical to Sony Signatures' plans. It wants to launch the "Kiss Psycho Circus" licensing program next summer with retail promotions, followed by additional retail efforts at Halloween and Christmas, supporting the first Kiss holiday-themed merchandise.

Sony Signatures is hoping an upcoming marketing program with Spencer Gifts will inspire wary retailers to take a chance on Kiss in 1998. A promotion, "It's A Merry Rock'n KISSmas," launches Nov. 20 to support Spencer Gifts' in-store Kiss boutiques offering band merchandise as holiday gifts. The promotion and supporting advertising is being handled in-house by Spencer.

In keeping with Sony Signatures' integrated marketing approach, it will soon begin talking with marketers about tour sponsorships. Despite the band's dark imagery, Mr. Bongiovi argued that Kiss is fun for the whole family.


"At the 'Kiss Alive' concerts, you didn't hear one curse, there wasn't one crotch grab," Mr. Bongiovi said. "Dark superheroes are in right now. Consumers can't stomach that clean-cut good guy stuff anymore. Kiss has that yin-yang

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