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Article | An analysis of tobacco placement in YouTube cartoon series The Big Lez Show

This paper, recently published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, investigates how social media platforms such as YouTube provide largely unregulated opportunities for covert tobacco product placement that immerse viewers in evolving narratives and surrounding fan-created material.

A Winfield Blues product placement appeared in series 3 of The Big Lez Show, a ‘crude comedy’, DIY animation web series that has garnered over 70 million views. Such contemporary entertainment using social media platforms can create immersive contexts that present an elusive and ongoing challenge to tobacco control policies. The Big Lez Show’s use of the Winnie Blues brand imagery has spawned memes, merchandise, and smartphone apps that amplify the brand’s reach and connection with young people.

This study used a netnographic approach that adapts the traditional, in-person participant observation techniques of ethnography to investigate this on-line fan and associated paratexts, and conducted a frame-by-frame analysis of the most pertinent 12 minutes and 5 seconds of animation, and 250 pages of paratexts.

The Big Lez show links “Winnie Blues” to seemingly authentic virtual content, including memes, merchandise, discussion groups and even smartphone apps. These para, or secondary texts, surround the original content, provide opportunities for brand co-creation in online fan forums, and integrate tobacco brands in everyday life.

The Big Lez Show integrates “Winnie Blues” with popular culture and raises important questions about how social media facilitates tobacco product placement. Policy responses include encouraging social media platforms to include tobacco within webmaster guidelines and requiring site owners to demonstrate their content reaches only those legally able to purchase tobacco.

The full article can be viewed in Nicotine and Tobacco Research. (Note subscription access may be required)

For more information or to request a copy of the article, please contact:
Shelagh Ferguson
University of Otago, Department of Marketing


Ferguson, S., Smith, J. and J. Hoek (2019), An analysis of tobacco placement in YouTube cartoon series The Big Lez Show, Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

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