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What’s that coffee cup on Game of Thrones worth to Starbucks?

A misplaced cup is getting Starbucks some major-yet-unexpected advertising opportunity.

What’s that coffee cup on Game of Thrones worth to Starbucks?
[Photos: Helen Sloan/HBO; Engin Akyurt/Pexels]

All it took was one cup.

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The official list of brand partners and projects that HBO had collected for this, the final season of its blockbuster hit Game of Thrones, is long and illustrious: There was Bud Light’s epic Super Bowl ad, Mountain Dew’s “A Can Has No Name,” Adidas kicks for White Walkers, a tie-in with Major League Baseball, special edition Johnnie Walker whisky, limited edition Oreo cookies, OKCupid dating badges, a John Varvatos collection, Shake Shack’s Dracarys Burger and Dragonglass shake, and 250,000 New York City transit GoT-themed MetroCards. So much planning, creative strategizing, and marketing dollars spent promoting each and every one.

And yet, one tiny mistake on-set filming episode four may have just unintentionally made Starbucks the most memorable brand in GoT history.

Upon much squinting—and according to production designer Hannah Beachler—it’s not even a Starbucks coffee cup!

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But the Internet has claimed it thus, so the brand getting its name tossed around with Game of Thrones with reckless, giddy, abandon is Starbucks.

Now, the first question may be, how much is that free bit of product placement worth? If this was a major network show, Starbucks likely would have paid for the placement as part of a $1 million or more deal that included an ad buy during the show—and money spent promoting its inclusion. But HBO doesn’t have ads and doesn’t charge fees for product placement. Deals like those with Bud Light and Oreo work for the cable network because it’s essentially trading the privilege of those brands associating with its show for those brands to advertise that show along with their own products. That Super Bowl ad, for example, was paid for by AB InBev.

The value here for Starbucks is in the earned media coverage (present company included) of the cup on Game of Thrones. Plus, every podcast, recap, and fan tweet is yet another branded reminder of Starbucks’ ubiquity. Even the fact that people are assuming it actually is a Starbucks cup, simply based on its shape and general coloring, is credit to the brand’s cultural status. The tens or hundred of millions of dollars in free media the brand is getting from all of this only further cements that fact.

Starbucks hasn’t replied to a request for comment from Fast Company by press time, but we’ll update this story if it does.

UPDATE: The company responded saying it didn’t have any additional comment beyond this tweet.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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