Turtle Wax is renowned the world over, a brand recognized and respected for its heritage and iconic brand signature. By the end of the ’90s, however, intense competition in the car care category forced Turtle Wax to reconsider its future market strategies. As it turns out, what the robust brand lacked in sophistication it more than made up for in consumers’ perception of durability and staying power.
When asked directly last year, some consumers familiar with the brand thought—erroneously or not—that Turtle Wax may not have been quite as innovative as its competitors, yet nearly all consumers said they were sure the brand would be around forever. Also, most consumers assumed that Turtle Wax was now part of a large consumer goods conglomerate like Procter & Gamble, when in fact it is still a family-owned enterprise.
Part of that family is Tom Healy, vice president of marketing at Turtle Wax and nephew of the brand owners. Healy was only slightly surprised by the undeniable reactions that the brand name or logo by themselves often produced in consumers. Not only do over 90% of consumers immediately recognize the brand, but the turtle himself triggers positively good feelings in consumers as a rule.
Dennis Furniss, vice president of strategic branding and design for BrandScope in Chicago, explains that initial findings of the consumer response research were very encouraging. “There was definitely an emotional territory surrounding the brand,” Furniss says. It seems that though the brand had certainly been diluted over the years, there was an undeniable strength below the surface that begged to be buffed up to a new luster.
BrandScope was given 12 weeks for the first phase of Turtle Wax’s comprehensive makeover—refine the brand image by rethinking the icon and product labels. The first move was extensive qualitative category and consumer research programs, often performed by BrandScope’s own brand research team, strategists, and designers, to determine whether a significant break from the past should be considered seriously.
Research findings were definitive: The Turtle Wax brand already stood apart from the crowd—it was cherished, respected, and trusted. The brand was valued for innovative solutions and products, preferred for its Hard Shell Finish™ added value, and thought to be nearly invincible.
BrandScope concluded that though the brand needed “refreshing,” the cherished Turtle icon and the “Hard Shell Finish” heritage resonated too deeply with consumers to be abandoned. One other way to refresh the brand, however, was to return to the strength of the original Turtle Wax colors—a green turtle on white background. The brand had gradually shifted toward more green for their packaging and labels, and green evokes emotions and associations that, while relevant, were not conducive to the brand. The associative strength of the brand that existed with white backgrounds could not be underestimated.
“When you truly engage the consumer, the consumer tells you what they want,” explains Healy. So BrandScope listened to the research subjects themselves when they said: Reinvent the brand, but take a gradual, migratory approach. With that in mind, a good deal of thought went into discovering the meaning and importance of the top-hatted turtle icon.
After testing out five “finalist” icons, the icon they settled on is simpler, with little regard for realism, but immediately recognizable as the Turtle Wax turtle, top hat and all. The next challenge was making the label sell the idea of “reward,” to increase the perceived value of the product. “We needed to create a place for the icon to live,” Furniss explains. Where the icon would live, it was decided, was on cars with a good shine.
But what exactly was the reward? As a result of their extensive research, BrandScope was able to look at the concept of “shine” from a fresh perspective. It was possible, they discovered, that the importance of a shiny car to the owner was not how everyone else perceived the shine, but the reward was how it made the owner feel inside.
To achieve this reward perception, the vehicle—or the shine itself—would be the hero, and superfluous messages would be removed. The label designs would both consolidate the brand and differentiate the product lines. The vehicles for the labels would have to be many things, and three different vehicles would embody the three different product lines of Turtle Wax: “Hard Shell,” “F21,” and “Platinum.”
Furthermore, the vehicles would have to be fabricated, non-identifiable designs that the consumer would identify with at each level. The Hard Shell line vehicle, like the turtle itself, would be strong and powerful but also express reward. The F21 line vehicle would be masculine and sporty like a jet fighter. The Platinum line vehicle would be reminiscent of a luxury car and be in an aspirational relationship, above the “viewer.”
The overall message now on the labels is that the Turtle Wax brand is still grounded in its heritage, but does not rely on it. The icon and labels establish a stronger Turtle Wax brand, but make the consumer believe that what they see now has always been Turtle Wax. Turtle Wax’s Healy appreciates the new “unified, structural approach to the labels,” which carry themes and sub-themes across all lines.
Turtle Wax didn’t need sales figures to tell them they were on the right track, as a few major mass-market retailers told them that right away by promising to expand Turtle Wax’s shelf presence. The brand icon and label redesign was the first phase in Turtle Wax’s comprehensive makeover that will cut across all media, and present a consistent, recognizable face—or turtle—to brand loyalists and new customers alike.