Drug Policy as Marketing Tool?

Stanley Steemer Truck
The Ubiquitous Stanley Steemer Truck

Stanley Steemer is running ads (at least in the Seattle area) that are the first I’ve ever seen where a company is using their employee drug policy as a marketing tool.

In the ads, a pretty woman (housewife?) is shown with concern over letting strangers into her house, and with obvious relief that, because she called Stanley Steemer, there aren’t stoners invading her space. The line is that not only do they get your carpet clean, but their employees are clean too. I’ve got a FAQ that deals with the whole issue of employee testing, but this ad campaign raises a lot of questions for me.

This ad campaign raises a lot of questions for me

First, although I’m not a marketing expert, I wonder about all the standard marketing questions: is this a real concern for potential customers, is this a differentiator (do their competitors have an obvious problem with this), and do people believe the message? Even further, isn’t this making people who wouldn’t have otherwise thought about the issue of drug-impaired carpet cleaners now wonder about it and want to avoid it altogether (rent a machine and do it themselves)? I certainly didn’t think of the carpet cleaning business as a particular hot spot for the drug crowd… until this ad…

Then there’s the whole host of procedural questions:

  • What do they test for? Illegal drugs only? How about alcohol? What about prescription drugs? Performance enhancing drugs?
  • How often do they test? Only on hire? What if the person changes? So do they test every month?
  • What kind of a test is it? Urine, which misses a lot of drugs, or blood which is invasive?
  • Who do they test? Just the people who clean the carpets? How about sales people? The people on the phone? The managers? The CEO?
  • Are there exceptions? Can I get out of it on religious grounds?
  • What do they do with the long-time employee who suddenly goes dirty? Fire them? Keep them in the office? Rehab?
  • How much does this whole testing effort cost? Could it ever be worth the expense?

Of course there are the many privacy questions. What right does my employer have to know what I do in my off time? And who sees the results? Just HR? My manager? The health insurance provider? The police?

You have to be more sober to clean carpets than to play major league baseball?

Then there’s the issue of their relationship with their employees. “That’s right Sally, you have to pee in the cup before you can go to work.” That sure builds a wonderful trusting relationship between employer and employee. “Yep, Bob, you have to be more sober to clean carpets than to play major league baseball.” Please don’t get me started there…

But perhaps the most stunning part of all of this is that they don’t tell potential hires about this. That’s right, nowhere on their web site is this drug policy mentioned. I scoured their entire site, and especially their employment section, and there’s not a word about drug testing. There are lots of flowery words about how wonderful it is to work there, plenty of encouragement for you to apply, but not a word about peeing in a cup when you do. The first sign you see when you walk into many stores is “we drug test all applicants”. But at Stanley Steemer, they apparently keep that a surprise for the potential employee while touting it to potential customers.

All in all this seems like a really bad move, and shows remarkably poor judgement on the part of the Stanley Steemer leadership team. I’m sure it will be short-lived, quickly forgotten in the market, but long remembered in the company.