New Zealand influencer's 'misleading' post on weight loss tea dodges hot water after ASA accepts it was 'April Fool's joke'

Sera Lilly
A Kiwi influencer who claimed a range of herbal teas promoted weight loss and "removed tattoos" found herself in hot water after one of her followers lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority. Photo credit: @seralilly_nz / Instagram

A Kiwi influencer who claimed a range of herbal teas promoted weight loss and "removed tattoos" found herself in hot water after one of her followers lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority.

However, a minor tweak to the wording has since cleared business owner Sera Lilly of any wrongdoing, with the mum-of-five amending the original post to claim it had been an April Fool's joke. 

In April, Lilly - who currently has a following of over 113,000 on Facebook - made a post to the platform seemingly promoting a brand of "weight loss tea", touting the results as "incredible". 

As described by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the post showed an image of a "pale overweight woman in a red one-piece swimsuit next to an image of a slim woman in a red bikini".

As per the ASA's report on the matter, the caption of the post had stated, "Love getting before & after pics like these!!!!" alongside a claim that the supposed results were achieved in only seven days. Additionally, Lilly also declared the tea had "the ability to put skin elasticity back and remove all cellulite and stubborn unwanted tattoos [sic]".

The caption continued: "We have created the most incredible Weight loss tea! Do you want results like this before and after in only 7days!! No special diet or exercise needed to achieve these results [sic]."

At least one of Lilly's followers was convinced by the advert and purchased the tea in a bid to lose weight; however, it wasn't long before they complained to the ASA, claiming they had been duped by the influencer's "misleading" content.

"The [pictured] transformation was pretty extreme and it influenced me - someone trying to lose weight - to purchase the product," the follower said in their complaint.

The person who was influenced to purchase the tea added that their complaint was not only based on the false claims, but the subsequent revelation that the post had been shared by Lilly on April 1 - April Fool's Day.

"Today I learned that it was an April Fool's post, however she was still selling her own weight loss product with misleading / false claims and it was clearly labelled #AD," the complainant continued. 

"I bought the product as I'm trying to lose weight and I feel ripped off... with others who have commented on the post feeling a little upset or disappointed."

A comment by Lilly that poked fun at those who had taken the post seriously - "since when did April Fool's only last till midday?" - also left the complainant feeling "very unhappy and… stupid".

A second complaint lodged with the ASA argued that Lilly's post had "pushed false claims", noting that the 'joke' had still directed potential buyers to a website where they could purchase the tea.

"Posted on April Fools, however pushing her weight loss tea with false claims (drastic weight loss in [seven days], the tea will tan you etc) also directed people to the website to purchase. Very harmful [sic]," the second complaint read. 

The Chair of the authority's complaints board accepted the complaint, with the board to consider whether the Advertising Standards Code had been breached. 

In its decision, the board noted that as part of its self-regulatory process, advertisers and media have the option of amending or removing the offending post to ensure it complies with the advertising codes.

Lilly's subsequent amendment to the caption ("Edit: it's clearly an April fool's Joke!! Hahaha") made it clear the post was indeed intended to be a joke for April Fool's Day, the Chair said in their decision. 

"Given the advertiser's co-operative engagement with the process and the self-regulatory action taken in amending the advertisement, the chair said it would serve no further purpose to place the matter before the complaints board," the Chair said, ruling the complaint was settled.

It's not the first time Lilly has made headlines for promoting tea. As per the New Zealand Herald, in 2020 Lilly's 'teatox' tea was pulled from her online store after Consumer NZ launched an investigation into the contents of a range of cleansing or detoxing teas on the market. The teas were said to contain senna leaf herb, which is a pharmacy-only medicine.