SABMiller has defended its Birra Peroni subsidiary after the Italian brewer was hit with legal action over a "sexist" TV ad.

A group of female lawyers in Italy has launched a lawsuit against the brewer over the latest TV spot for its Peroni Red brand.

The ad - created by an all-woman brand team - is set in the 19th century and shows a woman failing to park her horse and cart while being watched by two men drinking bottles of Peroni. A voice-over then says: "Fortunately some things don't change".

An SABMiller spokesman told just-drinks today (19 September): "It was not our intention to ridicule or denigrate women in the advert. We took all the necessary steps in terms of our internal compliance process as well as having the ad vetted by Italian advertising authorities."

However, what SABMiller deems to be a harmless joke has angered Rome-based lawyer Laura Vasselli, who launched the legal action against the brewer.

"When I saw the advert on television, I could not believe my eyes," she told UK newspaper The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend.

"It was the most sexist and discriminatory thing I have ever seen and, this being Italy, there is quite a lot around. In essence, it was saying that women 100 years ago could not park a horse and carriage and even now they still cannot park a car. And all the while, these two men were looking on drinking beer and just laughing - what sort of image is that?"

The papers served on Birra Peroni are reported to say: "The message from the advert is that the quality of the beer stays the same over time while the ability of women to park remains inefficient over time.

"Although Peroni may see this advert as light and ironic we most certainly do not see it as such and we find it hard to believe that the company should have even run such a discriminatory and sexist advert.

"We would like to point out to Peroni that women these days safely drive and park not only cars, but planes, taxis, coaches, ships and trains."