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.]