Coles-owned Liquorland has been found in breach of a voluntary code of practice in its TV advertising, with the chain's ads accused of encouraging binge drinking, under-age drinking and portraying an improper link between alcohol and sport.
The Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code has admonished five Liquorland ads that revolved around scenes of young adults partying, playing sport and socialising while holding large quantities of either wine, spirits or beer.
The TV ads, shown in January, sparked 49 complaints to ABAC, most of them about the depiction of young people drinking or gathering up large quantities of alcohol, promotion of excessive drinking and images of alcohol-fuelled parties.
The complaints also raised the question of the ads being shown during the afternoon with an audience of all ages.
"The ad is contrary to the aim of preventing the deaths of young people through binge-drinking, the need to consume alcohol to have a good time and to warn of the dangers associated with swimming etc and alcohol," one of the complaints reads.
In one scene Matt Skinner, a sommelier and wine author who advises Liquorland on wine, is seen clutching four bottles of wine, two in each hand, and leaving a shop with two bags that can hold a dozen bottles.
In its defence, Coles said Liquorland, which has 633 stores, said it had acted responsibly at all times and that it was reasonably apparent the advertising did not amount to a breach of the code when assessed taking the content as a whole: "Liquorland does not believe that there is anything in the advertisements which could reasonably be said to encourage a person to consume alcohol in an excessive manner.
"The advertisements were intended to capture the Australian values of optimism, warmth, free-spiritedness and sharing great times with friends and had a theme of togetherness, camaraderie and group activity."
ABAC in its findings said the ads breached its code by failing to represent a balanced and responsible approach to alcohol consumption and by encouraging excessive consumption.
A Coles spokesman told BusinessDay: "Coles Liquor takes its role as a responsible alcohol retailer very seriously and we are disappointed that our recent advertisements were found to be in breach of Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code. We will ensure any future advertising addresses the concerns raised in this determination."
But ABAC's findings carry no punishment. Liquorland owner Coles is not a signatory to the quasi-regulator's scheme or its voluntary code of practice.
The ABAC scheme counts among its members alcohol producers, such as beer and spirits makers, but not retailers such as Liquorland.
Australian Drug Foundation national policy manager Geoff Munro said self-regulation was "no regulation" and that Australia should adopt an advertising regime as used in France where alcohol is advertised without images of people.