The Australian - Thursday 30 September 2004


Car ad code revs complaints


By Simon Canning


THE Advertising Standards Bureau has received a record number of complaints about car ads following the release of a new code governing car advertising.


But automotive industry experts said many of the complaints emanated from a single source and that Australians were not overly concerned about car ads.


Last month the ASB heard six complaints against car ads and next week the board will hear a further three.


Ads expected to be placed under scrutiny include those for Mini, Mercedes and Mitsubishi. Sources suggest another ad, for Toyota Camry Sportivo, may also be subject to a complaint.


The rise in complaints comes as road safety campaigners across the country are questioning the role of advertising in contributing to the road toll -- particularly among young drivers.


Harold Scruby, chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, said he was concerned that, despite the introduction of the new code, which makes it even tougher for manufacturers to use speed or stunts to promote their cars, ads continued to present unsafe driving. Mr Scruby highlighted the recent Mini Stunt Movie ad, which has been on air for little more than a week, as an example of how advertisers are breaching rules.


The ad, produced overseas, shows an unidentified car driving through a series of stunt situations before it is shown to be on a movie set. The body shell is then removed from the car to reveal a Mini underneath.


A spokesperson for Mini at BMW Australia said the company was aware of the complaint but would not comment until the ASB decision was handed down.


ASB chairman Robert Koltai said he was unsure if the number of complaints was on the rise, but another source at the ASB called last month's adjudications a record.


Among complaints dismissed was an ad for Holden in which a father and son are driving, with both breaking into broad grins when the father revs the engine.


Mr Scruby also questioned the ASB's policy of releasing details of complainants after he claimed he was contacted by a staff member from Mitsubishi and abused hours after submitting a complaint. The car maker is understood to have conducted an internal investigation into the allegations and formally apologised to Mr Scruby for the incident.


Mr Scruby said he was concerned complainants could be intimidated by direct approaches. However, Mr Koltai said Mr Scruby failed to use a template to submit complaints to the ASB that included a check box for privacy. Mr Koltai said it was a matter between Mr Scruby and Mitsubishi.


Peter Sturrock, chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, said the chamber had lobbied for some sort of mechanism in the new code that would stop a single complaint automatically triggering an investigation by the ASB but was unsuccessful. “We are quite comfortable with the way the code is working,” Mr Sturrock said. “There are one or two people who are submitting many of the complaints. But my understanding is that [while] there may be three or four complaints, they come from just one of two people. Frankly, we believe the level of genuine complaints as they relate to safety has been very low.” Holden spokesman Jason Laird said the company had no issue with people using their democratic right to lodge complaints about ads. “We have had four ads complained about and they were all dismissed,” Mr Laird said.


Mr Koltai also said that he did not believe the level of concern by the public about car ads was high. “If you look at the statistics, the public does not seem to be concerned about car ads,” he said.


Last month Mitsubishi withdrew an ad for its four-wheel-drive Magna after the ASB found the ad breached the strengthened car code.


Caption:  In the clear: Protests about this Holden ad were rejected - Illus:  Photo