Starbucks did not pay for one of its iconic coffee cups to be surreptitiously left in a scene of Game of Thrones.
On Monday, HBO confirmed to INSIDER that the rogue coffee spotted in a scene of the eighth season’s fourth episode, “The Last of the Starks,” was from the set’s craft services, which serves drinks and food to the cast and crew.
The television network also joked that the latte that appeared on the episode was a mistake: “Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”
However, the cardboard takeaway cup has become so synonymous with the Seattle-based coffee chain that everyone just (wrongly) assumed that it was theirs.
The scale of the fantasy series and the virality of the anachronistic cup are such that experts say Starbucks has earned millions in free publicity.
Stacy Jones, the CEO of the marketing agency Hollywood Branded, which specialises in product placement, told INSIDER that Starbucks would’ve had to pay $250,000 to $1 million USD (over $358,000 AUD to over $1.4 million AUD) for one of its containers to be gratuitously left in front of the Mother of Dragons.
“If we were looking at this in the grand scheme of things and we were comparing Game of Thrones to the other largest-watched content out there … you’re looking at the $250,000 USD to $1 million USD range for product placement where that product was positioned with a very central character,” Jones said.
However, she stipulated that HBO “doesn’t take dollars” from advertisers in its content because its customers are paying for an ad-free experience: “They [HBO] believe their audience should not pay for their content as well as have brands feature that are paying to be in their content.”
Despite the fact that Starbucks couldn’t have even paid HBO for the cup placement if they wanted to, Jones said the publicity value for the coffee company has risen into the billions.
Using metrics from media monitoring platform Critical Mention, Jones said the overall PR value for Starbucks was in the region of $2.3 billion USD (almost $3.3 billion AUD) — and that figure is still rising.
“This has to be one of the biggest, and most positive, PR values in the history of advertising,” Jones said.
“And while yes, HBO doesn’t look awesome for forgetting that cup during their continuity checks and filming processes, it has tremendous positive value for the show as well. Fans – and non-fans – are all talking.
“Starbucks is experiencing a windfall.”
Jones said that it was a testament to the coffee chain’s branding that everyone just assumes any coffee cup — “even if it’s dark and blurry” — is going to be from Starbucks.
HBO did not respond to Business Insider‘s request for comment.
A Twitter spokeswoman told MarketWatch that Starbucks tweets were running at 10 times their average hourly tweets on Monday morning.
“There have been more than 310,000 tweets today, and I’d say on an average normal day there are usually less than 100,000 tweets,” she said.
When contacted by Business Insider, Starbucks referred us to its earlier statement, which read: “TBH we’re surprised she didn’t order a Dragon Drink.”
TBH we're surprised she didn't order a Dragon Drink.
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) May 6, 2019
The pink beverage Starbucks was referring to is a “tropical-inspired pick-me-up [that] is crafted with a refreshing combination of sweet mango and dragon fruit flavors,” according to the company’s website.
“Thrones” executive producer Bernie Caulfield apologized for the blooper on WNYC on Monday, jokingly adding: “Westeros was the first place to actually, you know, have Starbucks.”
Meanwhile, production designer Hauke Richter told Variety that “things can get forgotten on set,” and that the anachronistic coffee was getting “blown out of proportion [because] it has not happened with ‘Thrones’ so far.”
For more background moments like this you might have missed, read our breakdown of 12 details from Sunday’s “Game of Thrones.”Image: HBO