Published September 25, 2002
NEW YORK – Kiss bassist Gene Simmons might seem an unlikely successor to Martha Stewart or Oprah Winfrey. But that's exactly what he's angling to be.
With the recent launch of his quarterly magazine Gene Simmons Tongue, a book imprint bearing his name, talk of a TV deal and plans for a clothing line, the frequently vulgar, unabashedly frank rock star says he's on a mission to brand himself as a lifestyle.
Despite Stewart's recent legal and PR troubles, Simmons says he's modeling himself after the domestic diva. "Martha Stewart means something and I'd like to think that Gene Simmons means something too," Simmons, 52, said in a phone interview.
Judging from the group of Playmates gracing Tongue's cover, Simmons' boasts about sleeping with more than 4,600 women — despite living with model Shannon Tweed for 19 years— and the number of times he mentions sex, it's not hard to figure out at least part of what lifestyle he represents.
"It's about choice and the value of life: good food, deep breaths, beautiful women — and not just one, either," he said. "I don't just want to make love to you. I want to make love to you, your sister and your mommy."
But despite the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" attitude, Simmons omits one of those elements from his concept. "Gene Simmons means anti-smoking and anti-drug," he said. "We don't take cigarette ads."
Indeed, the subtitle of Tongue is: Sex, Style, Rock 'n' Roll.
"The positioning of the magazine is a combination of Playboy, Maxim and Rolling Stone," said the magazine's publisher and co-founder, Allen Tuller. "But we're more in-depth. We're serving up nice entrees whereas these others offer lots of appetizers."
The premiere issue, which came out in June, canvases pop culture by featuring an interview with musician Tommy Lee, a story about Hugh Hefner and a piece about Politically Incorrect's host Bill Maher.
"The magazine is unapologetic in its admiration of the beauty of the female form," Simmons said. "[But] the magazine isn't exclusively about sex. It's about interesting guys, beautiful women. You have to have some story to tell."
Simmons was the marketing genius behind Kiss, whose members were known for their painted white faces and protruding tongues. Since it formed in the early '70s, the rock band has licensed more than 2,000 products bearing its name — including Kiss Kondoms and even Kiss Kaskets people can be buried in.
Now Simmons wants to go out on his own and follow in the footsteps of other icons who've used their names to create a brand.
"Is he going to have his own sheets in K-Mart? I doubt it," said Tuller. "But I guess he's certainly having a brand."
In order to work, though, personal branding must be a multimedia endeavor, experts say.
"You've got to be available through every single marketing channel possible," said Peter Montoya, publisher of Personal Branding Magazine. "High visibility builds credibility."
Simmons is on the right track with his magazine and book imprint already out there, and a clothing line, a chain of restaurants and a reality TV show in the works.
Skeptics wonder whether he'll have as much luck alone as he did with Kiss. And even those who have faith in Simmons say his brand will always be more niche than mainstream.
"His lifestyle is not one of a mass market," said Montoya. "His brand couldn't have as wide of an appeal as a Martha Stewart or an Oprah Winfrey."
That's because the lifestyle Stewart and Winfrey promote is attractive to a broad cross-section of people.
"There's a mass market of people who want to live a very middle-class, elegant, comfortable lifestyle," Montoya said. "However, there is only a small, fleeting segment of the population who wants to live the outrageous, sexual, rock 'n' roll lifestyle."
Still, Montoya predicts that Simmons will have success selling himself as a way of life.
"Gene Simmons is an absolute brilliant marketer and brilliant brander," Montoya said. "I have no doubt that he can extend his brand into the devout legion of Kiss fans and pull in a segment just interested in living his lifestyle."