By Austin Weimer
It’s both a trophy of a music experience and a marketing strategy: the graphic band t-shirt. As the cornerstone of musical merchandise, the t-shirt often parades fan dedication and exhibits personal wardrobe aesthetic. Recently, however, the game has changed. For many bands today, the t-shirt is only one of many merchandise items available, and when it comes to selling these new products the weirder they are, the better.
Kiss stands miles above any other band in terms of merchandise volume and variety, taking their over-the-top costume imagery and projecting it onto merchandise to create a world of their own. Throughout the early 2000s, Kiss branded lunch boxes, video games, and even caskets. Custom Kiss cookies and cookie cutters are also available, but third party distributors usually peddle them. The silver lightening bolt logo and battle-ax style guitars have become so popular they almost marketed themselves. In an interview with Forbes, Gene Simmons said, “If someone likes you, they’ll buy what you’re selling—whether or not they need it.” This is certainly the case for Simmons, who pulls millions in merchandise sales alone.
Clearly, making millions requires the right amount of fan devotion and artistic talent. More obscure bands utilize their devout fan base by experimenting with merchandise to garner financial success, or, at the very least, social media buzz. The Sword, a metal band from Austin, Texas, struck a deal with Tears of Joy, a hot sauce company from their home town. Their 2012 release of Warp Riders promoted a giveaway for the hot sauce, and the album closed with a song titled “Tears of Fire.” The direct correlation between names begs the question of which came first, the hot sauce endorsement or the song title?
Polish death metal band Behemoth took a similar leap of faith in late 2015, when they debuted a line of their own communion wafers. The wafers have Behemoth’s iconic sulfur of the philosophers logo raised on the front side. Limited availability is a major selling point—they can only be purchased at shows during last month’s Europa Blasphemia tour, otherwise they’re available to those that preordered their newest album, The Satanist. If anything, these wafers show Behemoth’s devotion to completely immersing themselves in the Antichrist aesthetic.
If you thought the pervious items were a bit of a stretch, then this last one surely goes to far. In 2012, Deadmau5 and Sol Republic struck a deal for Deadmau5’s cat, Professor Meowingtons, creating the world’s first headphones designed for cats. There are only 10 sets of these scaled-down Sol Republic models, and they’re going for $1,000 a pair.
Modern consumer culture and marketing strategies have produced some downright strange band merchandise over the last few years. If the item matches the style and quirkiness of the band and its members, it just might have a shot. And whatever the product, there’s always going to be a handful of fanatics who are willing to buy it.