Influencer Simone Anderson taken to ASA over 'misleading' promotion of rapid antigen tests

Simone Anderson and a stock image of a RAT
The influencer's promotion of the RATs was reported to the Advertising Standards Authority by two complainants who considered her posts to be "misleading" and "inappropriate". Photo credit: Simone Anderson / Instagram; Getty Images

Kiwi influencer Simone Anderson has once again come to the attention of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), this time for promoting rapid antigen tests to her 320,000 followers on Instagram.

According to a filing by the ASA Complaints Board on March 17, two people issued complaints after Anderson - an influencer, published author and blogger - shared a series of seven posts to her Instagram Story earlier this month promoting the Siemens Clinitest Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).

RATs are a method of testing for COVID-19 infection. Unlike the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests exclusively used in the earlier stages of the pandemic, RATs can easily be performed at home and return results in about 20 minutes. Comparatively, it can take two to five days for the result of a PCR test to be returned as the sample must be sent to a lab for processing. However, PCR swabs are far more accurate than their do-it-yourself counterparts.

As outlined in the document, Anderson had claimed to her audience that the Siemens Clinitest RATs are of a "high quality" and "detect a much lower viral load" than other brands, allowing you to "protect yourself and others earlier". 

On her Instagram Story, Anderson also claimed she takes a RAT before social events to feel confident that she's not carrying COVID-19. Each of the posts contained a link to Advanced Diagnostics, an Auckland-based medical supplier, directing her followers to purchase the product. 

The first complainant branded Anderson's claims as "misleading", while the second argued that it was "completely inappropriate" for an influencer with no medical background to be promoting RATs to their audience. 

"On [March 10] Simone Anderson posted [on] her Instagram Stories promoting Advanced Diagnostic rapid antigen tests. Anderson claimed the tests to be more accurate than others on the market. This is misleading as all rapid antigen tests need to meet a certain standard to be sold in New Zealand," the first complaint issued to the Authority read.

At the time of writing, several different brands of RATs have been authorised and approved by the Ministry of Health for use in New Zealand - including the Siemens Clinitest RATs promoted by Anderson.

The second complainant also noted that Anderson's promotion of the product hadn't been labelled as an 'ad', which is required under the ASA's official guidelines. The guidelines state that any products or services being advertised by an influencer on social media, no matter the size of their following, must clearly be labelled as such, to ensure people are being transparent about commercial relationships between themselves and the brands they are promoting. 

"[It's] completely inappropriate for someone with no health/medical background to be promoting rapid antigen tests (RATs) on social media," the second complaint read.

"Making claims around effectiveness around tests etc is borderline and worrying [sic]. While it's not an advertisement, as it wasn't tagged as an 'ad', it's just wildly inappropriate." 

The relevant provisions were Principle 2, Rule 2(d) of the Advertising Standards Code and Principle 2, Rule 2(a) of the Therapeutic and Health Advertising Code, according to the Chair of the ASA Complaints Board.

In the filing, the Chair acknowledged the complainants were concerned that Anderson was issuing misleading claims when promoting the RATs. The Chair accepted the complaints to go before the Complaints Board to consider whether the Advertising Standards Code had been breached. 

However, as part of the self-regulatory process, advertisers and media have the option of amending or removing their advertising to comply with the Advertising Codes. 

The Chair acknowledged Anderson had removed the advertisements after receiving the complaint. 

"Given the Advertiser's co-operative engagement with the process and the self-regulatory action taken in removing the advertisement, the Chair said it would serve no further purpose to place the matter before the Complaints Board," the Chair ruled, noting that the complaint had been settled.

It's not the first time Anderson has come under fire for her sponsored content on social media. 

In 2020, the ASA upheld four complaints against the blogger for failing to clearly label advertisements on her Instagram, the first decision of its kind against a social media influencer.

Eight months later, the ASA upheld another three complaints against Anderson after it ruled that promotional content shared on her profile was misleading and unable to be identified as advertisements. Two complainants were concerned by a collection of Instagram Stories in which Anderson discussed products from her activewear brand Embrace Active, without making it clear she was promoting her own business.