By on May 8, 2009

All’s not well with Turtle Wax. To wit: in a recent Piston Slap article, numerous commentators made less-than-flattering remarks about the brand’s products and image, indicating that Turtle Wax is suffering a dramatic loss of brand equity. It’s a big problem at a bad time. Last October, 3M acquired Meguiar’s. Barry Meguiar is a tireless and charismatic promoter who’s deeply in tune with car care gestalt. With the normally staid Triple M’s enormous resources behind him, the Divine Mr. M could put a serious hurt on Tommy the Turtle. It’s time to put the terrapin’s marketing under the microscope.

The crux of Turtle Wax’s problem was apparent the moment I entered the company’s wood-paneled conference room. The company displayed a farrago of Turtle Wax branded products, sporting vastly different color schemes, graphics, containers and brand names. Why wasn’t everything in a “Turtle Wax Green” bottle, with Tommy the Turtle placed front and center?

Potato chips. Your local grocery store carries a huge variety of potato chips: regular, fat-free, low-calorie, ruffled, jalapeño, small bags, big bags, etc. Potato chip makers don’t like this product fragmentation; it’s expensive to create and stock new variations. But retailers want their shelves filled with as much variety as possible. If a potato chip maker doesn’t play the game, another manufacturer grabs their shelf space.

Same deal at AutoZone. They allocate shelf space according to product lines, not sales of individual products. In other words, the classic green bottle may account for 40 percent of Turtle Wax sales, but it doesn’t get 40 percent of Turtle Wax’s shelf space. The challenge: how do you create a huge “family” of car care products that look similar enough to extend the brand without triggering Stendhal Syndrome?

In this Meguiar’s has the edge. All of its products feature a large script of the brand name over a black/maroon background. In contrast, Turtle Wax has reduced Tommy to a polo shirt logo, and slapped him on all manner of color schemes and container types (thanks to the logo, they all include the word “wax”). AND there are completely Tommy-less Turtle Wax products, some of which have nothing to do with traditional Turtle Wax car care (e.g., CD2 Engine Treatment).

Turtle Wax is aware of their packaging problems. Their redesigned Zip Wax bottle shows progress towards a more unified front, but there’s no question that their band extensions are cannibals out of control. The Turtle Wax website has a prominent “Help Me Choose” function where you can select from three products that all do roughly the same thing—without being able to choose multiple preferences.

Turtle Wax’s ICE brand points to an even uglier truth: success doesn’t always breed success.

Thanks in part to a distribution deal with Wal-Mart, ICE is America’s number one car care product. But the product’s association with the massest of mass market retailers alienates a wealthier, more automotively diverse demographic of car enthusiasts. Which creates a perception gap large enough for the Zainos (via word-of-mouth), Mothers (with their über-exclusive Shine Award) and Barry Meguiars (Host of Car Crazy) of the world to cut into their business.

ICE’s mass market positioning—offering a product without prominent Turtle Wax branding—makes it vulnerable to attacks from below (cheap, no-name knock-offs) and above (premium products reaching down for sales). Turtle Wax reps said the recession is adding brand insensitive customers looking to shine their old ride. It’s not clear how co/re/de-branding a Turtle Wax product could be considered the best way to create future loyalty.

For those who believe branding is bullshit and choose products for their attributes, consider this: after relaying TTAC commentator kurtamaxxguy’s query about the polymer quality of ICE versus its competitors, Turtle Wax indirectly admitted the differences are like consumer perception for Coke and Pepsi. And the (claimed) lukewarm reception to Proctor and Gamble’s excellent “Mr. Clean” system proves that better living through better chemistry isn’t The Truth About Turtle Wax.

Does any of this sound familiar? A company that adds sub-brands to expand its market share, and then loses market share to more focused competitors? The parallels with GM run even deeper.

Turtle Wax is big in China. Channeling their inner Buick, Turtle Wax does well at Chinese Sam’s Club outlets, selling the same ICE kit that you’ll find in the US for roughly five times more coin (about $100). Each store averages around 100 units annually. Meanwhile, Turtle Wax doesn’t sell their full product range in the PRC; the Chinese ICE brand (not Turtle Wax) has no fraternal or external competitors. For now.

Like GM, Turtle Wax’s future depends on recognizing and highlighting their core values and applying them across a more limited product spectrum, in a coherent, effective and instantly recognizable way.

[Turtle Wax paid for Sajeev's airfare, transfers, hotel, meals and accommodation. They have also provided sample products for review at no charge.]

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31 Comments on “Editorial: The Truth About Turtle Wax...”


  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    No traction here on the commentary, eh?

    You know, I heard that a wax marketer was gonna get some bailout money from the Presidents Task Force on Automotive Products and that the ShamWOW guy is gonna be CEO but he’s not putting a DIME into it …

  • avatar
    windswords

    “after relaying TTAC commentator kurtamaxxguy’s query about the polymer quality of ICE versus it’s competitors, Turtle Wax indirectly admitted the differences are like consumer perception for Coke and Pepsi.”

    This is the problem with a lot of waxes/sealents. The marketing razzle dazzle hides the fact that the products are basically a commodity. There is not a large difference between product A and B, let alone brand A and B. But many customers don’t know this. That’s why they are led to believe that Zaino is such an “OMG” product. At various professional detailer seminars and forums I have attended as well as the online kind, we have leaned that there is no magic, no alchemy, no “Colonel’s secret recipe” to this stuff. It’s basic chemistry and everyone knows how to do it.

    I knew one detailer who’s customer insisted he do his car using Zaino which the customer supplied. It came out fine but not better than what the detailer used for his other customers, and that cost him $22.90 a gallon from a supplier.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Turtle Wax suffers from being an aged brand which never kept up with the new kids on the block. Even in its heyday, Turtle Wax was the mass market cheap stuff. Its like Pepsodent, Prell and Pabst; old school brands fallen on hard times because they didn’t stay relevant. Nobody brags about having used Turtle Wax. Imagine getting together with the car guys and talking up Turtle Wax. They would laugh in your face.

    Dead brand walking.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Marketing a cheap consumer product isn’t quite like car marketing. This is more like selling chocolate or household cleaners — build a brand name, then come up with a gazillion products that you can use to leverage it, with every flavor and gimmick imaginable.

    The problem for Turtle Wax is that its reputation is poor. It’s the Kmart or Gallo Wine of car cleaning products.

    I’m going to take a wild guess and say that a strictly-low-end consumer brand may not be great for car wash products. The low end of the market either doesn’t bother with washing their own cars anymore, or else they go to car washes and have no idea what products are being used. You might as well have a better brand, and sell it for a few more bucks, ala Meguiar’s.

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    I am new to the car-wash scene, but it seems like an awful lot of attention on just one brand.

    Perhaps because they had been around longer and hence have more stuff for us to talk about?

  • avatar

    That’s part of the appeal of Zaino: They deliver a high quality product and don’t make you choose between 15 different waxes or sealants. The products are easy to use, they all smell good, and they’re reasonably priced (on a per-application basis). None of the products have a petroleum smell, not even the tire gloss. If I find something I like better, I’ll buy it, but I don’t have any complaints about their line.

    Turtle Wax, on the other hand, offers a zillion different products, including their popular green-can wax that is difficult to apply, stains plastic trim, and will only last a couple of weeks. That popular, low-quality product is what I associate with the Turtle Wax name.

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    I’m in the school of thought that wax is wax. Now,if you wax your vehicle but once a year, you should be choosy. But if you pay attention to detail and give your ride several coats a year almost any brand will do. Wow. You actually tied Turtle Wax and GM together. What a surprise!

  • avatar
    rodster205

    [Turtle Wax paid for Sajeev\'s airfare, transfers, hotel, meals and accommodation. They have also provided sample products for review at no charge.]

    … and probably will never again…

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    The first car I ever waxed was done with Turtle Wax. Ice has been the latest and probably the worst,greasiest product I have ever used.Nasty crap.

    Over the years I have found that NuFinish has held up the best for the longest time in the sort of climate we have in Los Angeles and Meguire’s works well, gives a great shine and doesn’t last near as long as Nu Finish.

    Funny to read this but my objective for the weekend was to pick up some old fashioned Turtle Wax Cleaner/Wax and check it out. It’s been awhile.Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic. Or perhaps it was the TTAC article from a couple of weeks prior to Sajeev’s junket put it in the back of my brain.

    I used to swear by the old green bottle. And loved the smell. Time to check it out again, I think.

    Does anyone “Simonize” any more?

  • avatar
    levi

    Does anyone “Simonize” any more?

    If it ain’t duPont No 7 Polish, it ain’t squat.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I think the most important thing when it comes to washing/waxing your car is how you do it. The guys in our detail shop, and other dealership detail shops as well, use no-name products that come in bulk containers, and their wax/polish jobs look magnificent! I think if you know what to do with the products you’re using, or what product to use for a desired result (this polish to remove that scratch, this clay bar to remove that blemish, etc.), then you can make a car look great, I don’t care whose name is on the bottle.

    Turtle Wax’s problems, I think, come partially from diluting their brand’s image in a market where there is so much to choose from these days. When you look at the shelves in your local Auto Zone, Turtle Wax’s multiple looks disappear amongst the other brands that are uniform in bottle shape and colors. As mentioned above, Meguire’s products all look similar, with a tan bottle and black label. Black Magic products have the same black bottle and similar labels. Turtle Wax has some green bottles, some white ones, some black ones, they’re all different. You can’t have a brand identity when customers don’t make a link between your different products. TW needs to have their equivalent to BMW’s distinctive grill.

    Then there’s the perceived quality, or lack thereof. That’s going to take some serious marketing focus. Do demos, give out samples, show people that your product works. People want to see results, but if you show them, they’ll believe. TW needs to do the wax version of the Pepsi challenge. Car shows, race weekends, swap meets, these are places that TW needs to be, showing off their products, and showing that they work. Do that, get the word out to car guys that your products work as well as, or better than the overpriced competition, and you’ll pick up some sales.

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    DweezilSFV :

    Over the years I have found that NuFinish has held up the best for the longest time in the sort of climate we have in Los Angeles and Meguire’s works well, gives a great shine and doesn’t last near as long as Nu Finish.

    In Edmonton’s harsh winter/mild summers, I’ve found that synthetics like NuFinish lasts about 16 weeks, Black Magic lasts around 20-25 weeks, and Turtle Wax Ice paste will easily go over 36 weeks for a car that’s parked outside. Their claim of durability is refreshing true. It has zero cleaning power, but if you apply it sparingly after using a paint cleaner, it looks as good as any all-in-one synthetic polish.

    Carnaubas look better, but I don’t like waxing every 2 months.

  • avatar
    Airhen

    From the days of wax, for the last ten years I’ve been using one coat of Rejex twice a year on my vehicles. As a result with my oldest five year old daily driven family SUV, it has kept the paint looking new (and better then most of my neighbor’s vehicles).

    I also tried Zaino last summer on a newer vehicle, and wow, what a shine! But part of the Zaino process seems to be using the clay bar along with all of the other steps. I started with washing the vehicle twice, then used the clay bar, then wash again, and then a coat of two of their other products. Talk about one long day!

    When it was time to again wax the family SUV, I just went back to one wash and then one coat of RejeX. It is just a daily driver after all.

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    Let’s get to the real important stuff. Is it true that one’s martial arts’ talents can be improved with “wax on, wax off”?

  • avatar
    MBella

    The shine comes from the paint, and not the wax, no matter what the ads say. I use the Meguire’s Tech Wax #(I forget), and it is very fast to apply, and remove access product. The detailer I talked to at a body shop has recommended it to me, and I like it. It usually lasts the better part of a year.

    I was going to try the ICE once, but it was a dollar more a bottle than the Tech wax. How can they expect me to pay more for a Turtle Wax product than Meguire’s high end wax?

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    after relaying TTAC commentator kurtamaxxguy’s query about the polymer quality of ICE versus its competitors, Turtle Wax indirectly admitted the differences are like consumer perception for Coke and Pepsi

    Not surprising they wouldn’t say much – trade secrets :-) . Perhaps one day CU or some test organization will confirm how ICE compares with REJEX, or Meguiers “tech2″ finish, or other polymer products.

    My experiences with Rejex and Meguiers suggests these outlast waxes by far, but they’re not miracle products (bugs __do__ stick to REJEX, but less so compared to un-REJEXed surfaces).

  • avatar
    Tosh

    A turtle is the dullest of the reptiles, a dry, wrinkly, rough, slow, and tedious animal that only appeals to other turtles (and third graders). Maybe this was an exotic pet in the 1940’s when they came up with the name, but it seems the opposite of what I should be putting on my car.

    Somehow they need to work lasers, titanium, or penguins into the brand. Some pizzazz!

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    Well, I hope they keep making the stuff. How else will I keep my turtle’s shell shiny?

  • avatar
    amca

    I went to one of their “car care” stores recently, and for a mere $59.95, they did a beautiful wax and wash job on my car. So no complaints here!

  • avatar
    commando1

    Stendhal Syndrome!
    So that’s my problem.
    Who needs WebMD when we have TTAC…

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Tosh: “A turtle is the dullest of the reptiles, a dry, wrinkly, rough, slow, and tedious animal that only appeals to other turtles (and third graders).”Perhaps, but turtles tend to live a long, long time. Unless, of course, they encounter mankind…

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    Levi: duPont #7, I’ve used that too. Mother’s, Blue Coral 3 Step, Liquid Glass.

    I joke about Simoniz as that’s what I used to hear the old timers refer to as waxing. Seems at one time it was so popular the trademark became a verb. They had some great ads in the old car magazines from the 50s I scored at a swap meet.

    WaftableTorque: that’s a pretty good endorsement for ICE. I’ll have to reconsider my opinion. Thanks.
    Just hated using it: too slimy and couldn’t tell if I had covered the area or not.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I find that Turtle Wax Ice “Liquid Clay Bar” is a useful prep before waxing – it removes crud and even minor clearcoat scratches (if you use enough elbow grease) pretty well. It’s a very fine abrasive that has to be washed off after application, but doesn’t leave any major swirl marks (at least on my red Elantra, can’t say for black finishes).

  • avatar
    rj

    I’ve been using Eagle One stuff exclusively for almost 20 years. Easy to use and long-lasting.

  • avatar

    Thank you all for reading.

    ————
    Bridge2far : You actually tied Turtle Wax and GM together. What a surprise!

    Multiple brands all fighting for the same territory and a single product success in China? You can’t make this stuff up.

    ————–
    rodster205 : … and probably will never again…

    Well, I know the drill by now.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/buick-to-precision-and-beyond/

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Modern paints are really amazing. Gone are the days where paints needed “drying time” after application, and were vulnerable to environmental pollutants.

    My body-shop guy tells me that new paints don’t dry – they “cure” and harden like an epoxy. He has replaced all of the heating elements in his paint booth with UV lights as newer paints cure faster under those lights.

    My last 4 cars were never waxed during their time under my ownership (apart from the wax that the drive-through car wash applies). The paint finish on these cars looked great from the day they were bought, to the day they were sold. I did not perform any special care apart from taking the cars to a car wash when they got dirty.

    With all these fancy new paint technologies, is waxing really necessary?

    -ted

  • avatar
    Uncle Bo

    I’ve used all the products mentioned and have most of them on hand now. After almost 25 years of detailing and car care, I can tell you most store bought products are about the same. As was mentioned, there is no magic, no secret in making a basic car wax. Hell, anyone reading this can easily be in the car wax business; Dow Corning and others will happily give you a wax formula if you’ll buy their chemicals.

    The real difference in car waxes is in their marketing. One big reason why companies like Meguiars have segmented their product line is because hype sells. Introduce a new product, package it differently, create some copy for the label and the website and you’ve got yourself a whole new revenue stream. Sure, the stuff in the $7.99 bottle is the same as the stuff in the $4.97 bottle, but consumers don’t seem to care.

    I once heard that Meguiars’ #1 expense was the water they used to mix all their products. Even the cost of the bottle and labels is pennies per item. How good can a product be if it’s 90% water by volume?

    Since marketing drives the entire business model, there is very little spent on product development. This is where Zaino comes in and steal a big chunk of the product niche. They are one of the few companies that actually spend money on R&D, field testing, and comparative analysis. They don’t spend a dime on marketing surveys or focus groups or fancy retail packaging. I mean, when was the last time you saw a Zaino ad?

    Bottom line is TW forgot about all this stuff and just relied on their now-tired brand name to sell the product for them. I’m sure the amount of co-op marketing dollars credited to Walmart, Auto Zone and the rest are staggering. Maybe if TW spent some of the money to buy market position on developing a product that was actually good, they’d start regaining some respect in the market.

  • avatar

    Bridge2far said:

    Let’s get to the real important stuff. Is it true that one’s martial arts’ talents can be improved with “wax on, wax off”?

    That is the same answer for marital arts as it is for martial arts. Not that there is anything wrong with that..

  • avatar
    fallout11

    I spent years and countless thousands of hours of hard elbow grease carefully washing, detailing, and waxing my old whips regularly with a wide range of products. As I grew older, I grew wiser…..the secret is the paint, not the product you put on it. Zerofoo is right on point there, modern paint technologies (with some exceptions, primarily in poor coloration choices, i.e. red or dark blue in the deep south) have rendered these old methods as obsolete as buggy whips.
    My 8 year old truck shines like it was new after a fresh wash, and I only wash it twice a year and have NEVER waxed it. The same story with the one before it. Waxing and polishing actually damages modern clearcoats through abrasion (waxes) and chemical solvents (1 step polishes). Might as well just pour light machine oil on your car to make it shiny….just as pointless.
    Stop the madness.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Waxing and polishing actually damages modern clearcoats through abrasion (waxes) and chemical solvents (1 step polishes). Might as well just pour light machine oil on your car to make it shiny….just as pointless.

    Before your theory gets ripped apart as automotive heresy, let me just say that it struck a chord with me. I think car wax probably is 99% hocus pocus.

    In my 40+ years I have pampered cars and I have neglected cars, and I have never been able to tell the difference between the two. If anything the neglected cars are easier to wash, because the water sheets right off instead of leaving spots.

    The primary benefit of waxing is that you can rub the back of your hand on the paint and say “oooh… ahhh”, which in the grand scheme of things means absolutely nothing.

    There, I said it. The Emperor has no clothes!

  • avatar
    jkim23

    Just my two cents: I believe that waxing and polishing maintains the integrity and quality of the original paint surface. I have friends who don’t polish/wax and their cars look much more aged with swirling and fading than my friends who do polish and wax.


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