Marketing 101: KISS and Wal-Mart
On Sunday, we drove our daughter back to college after a weekend home. She goes to the University of Texas-San Antonio in the city’s northwest side, apparently also a newly developed area for upper-income people. Anyway, we were in a Wal-Mart (yeah) and I saw this guy plunk down three – count ’em – three copies of the new KISS album Sonic Boom.
We found the Wal-Mart’s “KISS Korner,” where you can fondle the new triple-disc CD/DVD package (12 bucks), a KISS fleece throw (10 bucks), a bag of KISS M&Ms (6 dollars) and KISS Mr. Potato Heads (10 bucks). Somewhere back in electronics they had Sonic Boom crankin’, or maybe it was the live DVD. Surely somewhere else in the store there was KISS makeup for the kiddies on Halloween and some action figures. So it should come as no surprise that Sonic Boom may well be at No. 1 or close to it on the Billboard Top 100 album charts this week.
Now the idea of rock acts signing up to be “exclusive” with Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, may be repulsive to you. It certainly was, earlier this year, for fans of Bruce Springsteen, who apologized after marketing his latest Greatest Hits only at the Mart. But it’s a natural for KISS and the band’s bassist/marketing genius Gene Simmons. He’s laughing all the way to the bank; in his case, multiple banks to hold all of his money.
You gotta hand it to him – and to bands like Foreigner, Journey, AC/DC and the Eagles – who all inked Wal-Mart exclusives and cashed in. They are managing to do what our beloved mom-and-pop record stores can’t do, and that’s move physical CDs in the age of downloading. Yeah, it’s too bad that independent record stores are dying. But it’s way too late to resuscitate the corpse. Wal-Mart didn’t kill the corner record store – we did.
We killed them by buying the new U2 and Jay-Z albums at Best Buy, or Wal-Mart, for 10 or 12 bucks instead of 18 or 20 at the corner record shop. We killed them by snapping up that Paul McCartney or Elvis Costello album at Starbucks. We killed them by tossing the new KISS album, packaged with a second CD of re-recorded greatest hits and a DVD of a live concert, into our shopping cart with the beer and the chicken fingers.
It’s too bad that the record stores are going away, but maybe it’s time for us to accept the fact that the music business has changed once again. But it’s not successful for everyone – Guns n’ Roses made an exclusive deal with Best Buy last year (for Chinese Democracy) and Pearl Jam’s Backspacer is available only at Target – the former kind of bombed while the latter is doing KISS-like numbers.
You crank up the new KISS album and just one chorus and one guitar solo later, it’s 1976 all over again. And sure, the lyrics are sophomoric and dumb but this is KISS after all. Truthfully, this is a much better album than anything the group has produced in nearly 20 years and it’s probably going to be the one that’s left ringing in our ears when the band finally hangs it up. Journey and Foreigner also recently put out efforts worthy of their respective catalogs as Wal-Mart exclusives, and I’m sure the Eagles did too. Surely these won’t be the last – earlier this year mega-manager Irving Azoff was angling to get a Fleetwood Mac reunion album (with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks but without Christine McVie) on the shelves at Wal-Mart. This may be the way these artists can continue riding the limos and promoting tickets to their concerts – until the next big marketing brainstorm blows in.
Oh yeah, they were also on “The Late Show With David Letterman”