|The Australian - Thursday 11 November, 2004
Walk man Drives car war
|OVER the past five years Harold Scruby, chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, has averaged at least one mention in mainstream media every week. It's a level of coverage that even politicians would struggle to match as Scruby fights for the rights of pedestrians. Scruby's name not only appears regularly in the media (In the past week he has publicised his views on road dangers as various as four-wheel-drives and bicycles) but he is also perhaps the most dedicated complainant to the Advertising Standards Board.
The ASB is the industry-run watchdog for ads that offend or breach an auto-industry-backed code of practice on advertising. The code itself was strengthened earlier this year, thanks in part to lobbying by Scruby. Shortly after the new code's adoption several months ago, Scruby was delighted when after his complaints, an ad for Mitsubishi was ordered off the air. Similarly, two weeks ago an ad for Mini that offended Scruby and his supporters was also found to breach the code. He now awaits the outcome of his latest complaint against Mercedes, in which a monk uses the superior handling of the car to dodge flying insects.
Sources at the ASB suggest Scruby and a small band of supporters are the main reason why car ads last year were the sector that received the most complaints.
According to information obtained by Media, complaints against car ads largely emanate from just four sources. "These four complainants collectively complained about 53 separate motor vehicle advertisements during 2003," a source at the ASB said. "In most of these cases they were the sole complainants in Australia." According to the source, 72 per cent of complaints come from these four sources.
"If asked is Harold Scruby the lead complainant in this group of four, the answer would be yes."
One source at the ASB said of Scruby's relationship with the board: "He is a sufficiently frequent caller to be on first-name terms with the complaints manager." Privately, those close to the ASB admit frustration with the level of correspondence that cascades from Scruby's office, although publicly they support his right to lodge complaints.
"The ASB operates a service designed to serve the general public, and Mr Scruby is regarded that way," an ASB source said. "We have no information on the Pedestrian Council, in relation to who funds it, who belongs to it and who — if anyone — ever complains to it about advertising." Similarly, those in the car industry express private frustration at having to deal with Scruby's ongoing complaints to the ASB. But again, seek a public comment and the auto industry admits Scruby and his organisation are free to question the manner of car advertising — although they claim many of his issues are "trivial". The phrase "serial pest" is how one automotive executive described him.
Ironically, it's a description Scruby himself revels in. "If being a serial pest manages to save one life, then I'm happy to be one," Scruby told Media.
There is little doubt that over the years Scruby has become a man of influence. The campaigner has the ear of legislators and motoring groups.
Scruby's war against cars began in the early 1990s, when as deputy mayor of the affluent Sydney suburb of Mosman, he fought for the introduction of 40km/h zones outside schools. Some critics suggest his interest in the health of pedestrians stretches back to the '80s, when Scruby himself was involved in an accident with a pedestrian. Scruby denies this and notes it was the jogger who was later found to be at fault.
But the question many car marketers, and even those within the ASB, are asking is: is a special interest group taking advantage of the system, and should the ASB and the car code be reformed to take it into account. Doubtless Scruby would say no. But, then, who else is complaining about car ads?