The most recognizable band on Earth? Inside the world of KISS Inc.

@CNNMoney October 24, 2011: 8:32 AM ET

LOS ANGELES (CNNMoney) -- "My favorite piece of merchandising is me."

Gene Simmons, the co-founder of KISS, is taking us on a tour of his home office.

Paul Stanley of KISS
KISS guitarist Paul Stanley shows off a branded guitar pick in the studio.

It's not so much an office, but a gigantic display of everything KISS, the band that started in 1973 and has grown into one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

We're here to see many of the 3,000 items that KISS has licensed, from the coffin sitting locked on the floor, to the colorful condoms hanging on the wall.

"Everything begins with an idea," Simmons says. "How about when I was growing up, I used to eat M&Ms. And M&Ms, which are now in Wal-Mart, have our faces on them."

Inside the Simmons' mansion, with the panoramic panoply of merchandise, it's hard to figure out where to start.

The merchandise almost amounts to sensory overload: KISS footballs. Barbecue sauce. Teddy bears. Potato heads. Action figures. A flip cam.

"We have sold over 10 million KISS shirts in the last 15 years," says Dell Furano, president of Live Nation Merchandising, which licenses KISS merchandise. "A lot of these are just different variations of shirts. We have shirts for animals, shirts for newborns, we have shirts for toddlers, we have vintage shirts. And it all fits into the KISS show, the KISS experience. And if you go to a KISS concert now, it's remarkable. You see multi generations. A lot of it just comes from Paul and Gene, and what they've created."

In the last 15 years, KISS has sold more than a half billion dollars in merchandise all through Live Nation Merchandise, Furano tells CNN.

CNN Presents: KISS the band and the brand

"Our only rule has been there's no rules," KISS co-founder Paul Stanley says during an interview at his home. "We make the rules. That's hard for some people to accept, but that's been the key to our success. That we don't listen to the status quo, and that we don't listen to what other people are doing. We trust our own judgment. We live by it, live by the sword, die by the sword. We have gotten poked a few times, but we've been victorious."

Victorious enough that KISS has its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Marketing expert Pete Krainik, who founded The CMO Club for chief marketing officers around the country, sums up the KISS formula for success.

"Like any brand, it's an emotional connection with the consumer, your fans," Krainik says. "They have that connection; they also have the ability because of not having drug problems. Gene doesn't drink, they're a little edgy, parents can take the kids to the concert and say, 'Here's my chance to be edgy with my kid, but I also feel good about it.'"

"Our crowd is so diverse, I mean everybody comes to a KISS show," says guitarist Tommy Thayer. "It's like the circus is coming to town, and everybody wants to go out, and it's a must-see and everybody has to check it out."

In July, Thayer and the band headed on the private KISS jet to Oshkosh, Wis., to perform before more than 27,000 fans. It was part of a summer tour and KISS was the final act of a three-day festival, a barren space transformed into a field of rock 'n' roll dreams.

"When you play a smaller market or a place that doesn't get as many shows, when you come there it has an effect for them as opposed to let's say Los Angeles or New York where everybody's like, 'Oh they were here last year," band member Eric Singer says. "They're very appreciative when you go to a secondary market or smaller parts of the world."

Doc McGhee, the band's long-time manager, says in a show where only KISS performs, they would rake in $600,000 to $700,000 in merchandise sales, more than three times the amount in festivals like Oshkosh where many bands perform.

He says he will delay a show to accommodate sales.

"What we do is, we watch the booths to see if they're packed," McGhee says. "And then they stand there and they get 40 deep, but as soon as the band hits one note, they're gone. And you lose 20, 30, $40,000 in merchandise sales. So, I'll hold the show."

Upcoming deals include a partnership with Hello Kitty, an expanded line to include KISS cremation urns for humans and pets, KISS slot machines, KISS online virtual games, a KISS-themed glow-in-the-dark mini golf course in Las Vegas and a new Archie Comics series. In addition, a new album called "Monster" is scheduled to be released next fall, accompanied by an overseas concert tour.

While there's no telling how much KISS is really worth, Simmons says he believes the KISS brand is worth between $1 billion and $5 billion dollars.

In the end, whether it's the merchandise, or the music, Simmons and Stanley are unwavering about protecting the brand.

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"We've made no compromises to anyone," Simmons says. "We're stubborn, we're mule-headed. We've completely ignored fashion and fads and marched to the beat of our own drummer, if you will. For 38 years, we've defied the odds, we've buried all the critics in our backyard. They're now gone. And we have persevered, and grown bigger than ever. By some estimates, KISS are the four most recognized faces on planet Earth. I'll prove it to you. Do you know what the king of Sweden looks like? That's funny, because everybody in Sweden knows what KISS looks like."

"We've always done it our way, and that's what made for our success and will live beyond us," says Stanley. "When we're long gone, I will be incredibly honored to know that KISS continued."  To top of page

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