Millennials don't love their cars the way their elders did, and if you make car wax, that's a problem.
As baby boomer car buffs age out, Turtle Wax, Meguiar's, Mothers, Collinite and other products must court a generation that is the first to largely find car ownership a headache and driving a chore — and see cars as an encumbrance rather than a status symbol.
Makers of car-care products have had to adapt marketing strategies, trying to deal with customers' differing demands even as producers of small-batch boutique waxes try to cherry-pick their most valuable customers and as professional detailers trade wax for advanced compounds.
RJ de Vera, global customer engagement leader at Meguiar's (which is owned by 3M), had been observing a slow degradation since around 2007, as car show attendance dropped, car magazines collapsed and cars failed to capture the imagination of kids as they once did.
"Even my nephews," he said. "I remember being 8 or 10 and really into cars, and they didn't care at all."
In 2015, a study commissioned by Turtle Wax found a shift in attitudes between generations, but also within generations. One group saw car cleaning as a way to protect the value of their investment. They wanted fast, easy, inexpensive cleaning products. The other group were detailing devotees who still wanted to lovingly buff their rides to an attention-getting gleam, and were willing to pay to get it. The split was about 70 to 30.
Wax-makers had to develop various product lines to address the split, as well as separate advertising strategies for two audiences, all on one budget. "The reality is you run out of money really, really quick if you are going for the mass market," de Vera said.
Attracting younger buyers has required a strategic shift to social media, video gaming and events. Turtle Wax has been placing ads on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, and in the past via Xbox. Meguiar's will have its brand appear in CSR Racing 2, a video game for mobile devices, and it has been holding meet-and-greet events with influential social media personalities such as TJ Hunt.
The big manufacturers have been pressed by a proliferation of boutique brands looking to pick off lucrative car-care aficionados, positioning themselves as superior to affordable mass-market products. That was the strategy of Dodo Juice. Funded in 2007, it promotes its products as handmade in small batches.
How much share boutique brands take from big manufacturers is unclear. "I have a lot of customers that are die-hard Meguiar's brand, but when something new comes out, they are going to order that," said Meghan Poirier, chief operations officer for the Palm Beach Motoring Group, which operates the car care product websites Autogeek and Autopia.
Meanwhile, professional detailers are moving away from waxes and into synthetic coatings. A properly applied and maintained ceramic coating can last years, compared with around a month for wax.
"Waxes are becoming obsolete; they are for the enthusiast," said DJ Patterson, president of the International Detailing Association. "Ceramic coatings are the longer-lasting paint protection."
Most wax-makers have responded with their own ceramic "hybrid" products, like spray waxes that contain silicone dioxide or titanium dioxide, common ingredients in ceramic coatings. "A spray wax that is ceramic-infused, it makes the wax more durable but isn't a ceramic coating," de Vera said.
Small manufacturers, like McKee's 37, which managing partner Nick Rutter said generally caters to "the 30-and-older crowd," has introduced a spray-on ceramic wax. "The younger crowd," he said, "is gravitating to the instant gratification products."