Thanks to Game of Thrones' social media dominating coffee cup gaffe, Starbucks received free advertising worth an estimated $2.3 billion. Last Sunday's GoT episode was supposed to be all about setting up the final confrontation between Daenerys' army and the forces of Cersei Lannister, but all anyone could talk about afterward was a conspicuous gaffe in which a cup of what appeared to be Starbucks coffee was left out on a table during a scene at Winterfell.
Because Game of Thrones happens in an imagined fantasy world based loosely on medieval Britain, the presence of a modern day coffee cup was puzzling to say the least. Social media became so enthralled by the errant cup that HBO felt compelled to address the mistake, noting that the cup was not in fact coffee but herbal tea. Though early news reports consistently identified the cup in question as a Starbucks cup, it later emerged that the cup in fact came from craft services and not the ubiquitous coffee house chain.
Though it's been definitively shown that Starbucks was not in fact responsible for the presence of that cup in the episode, the company undoubtedly came out the winner in the whole controversy over the gaffe. As reported by CNBC, one marketing company estimates that Starbucks garnered up to $2.3 billion in free advertising thanks to the misplaced cup. As Hollywood Branded CEO Stacy Jones explained, "This is a once-in-a-lifetime collision of opportunity for Starbucks," citing stats from PR service Critical Mention claiming Starbucks was mentioned 10,627 times online and in TV and radio thanks to their sudden, unexpected connection with Game of Thrones. Another social media analytics company, Talkwalker, counted a staggering 193,000 social media mentions of Starbucks and GoT together in 48 hours.
However, at least one other PR expert doubts the claim that Starbucks received as much as $2.3 billion worth of free advertising over the story. As Dan Hill, CEO of Hill Impact said, "I know people assign a value to these things...but I think it's all hogwash — too hard to quantify." Hill does note however that, as the cup gaffe has now become a meme, this will be a "gift that keeps on giving" for Starbucks for some time. For their part, HBO has tried to erase the gaffe from existence by removing the now-infamous cup from repeat showings of GoT.
Whether Starbucks actually received $2.3 billion in free publicity from Game of Thrones and that pesky cup, there's no doubt the company benefited greatly from social media rushing to attach the company's name to the gaffe seen around the world. Product placement is of course a major thing in movies and on television, but this is one instance where imagined product placement actually proved more lucrative than any deliberate deal could have hoped to be. Hopefully, Game of Thrones won't have any more gaffes in store for fans as it wraps up its run with two final episodes.