Eagle-eyed “Game of Thrones” viewers” spotted a Starbucks cup in Sunday’s episode of the well-loved HBO show and faster than you can say, “All men must try… Pumpkin Spice Latte,” social media was abuzz with jokes and conspiracy theories.
While the anachronism seems to be a simple oversight, both companies involved had fun with it.
Starbucks tweeted, “TBH we’re surprised she didn’t order a Dragon Drink,” getting hip with the abbreviation for “to be honest,” and HBO’s statement was straight deadpan: “The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”
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For the Seattle-based coffee giant, the seconds-long cup cameo could translate into millions of dollars of free advertising — the kind that usually comes with a hefty price tag from Reese’s Pieces in the now-classic flick “E.T.” to the BMW Z3 replacing James Bond’s Aston Martin in the movie “Goldeneye.”
From the West Coast to Westeros, both brands have throngs of loyal fans who are thoroughly enjoying the misdated misstep in season 8 episode 4.
“It’s a tempest in a tea cup – or coffee cup,” said Bob Killian, CEO of the eponymous Chicago-based branding firm. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I don’t think this will have much impact (except) Dunkin’ Donuts probably is not happy.”
But Karen Taylor Bass said while the coffee-cup gaffe likely won’t transform non-Starbucks drinkers into fans, it will drive sales among people already conscious of the brand.
“Starbucks is the victor in this,” said the Valley Stream, New York-based PR executive at TaylorMade Media. “If you’re the kind of person who hears people talking about it at the water cooler, you’re more apt to say, ‘Let me go to Starbucks.'”
From U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2013 on-air chugging of Poland Spring to the Ford Bronco in the 1994 O.J. Simpson case, inadvertent product placement is nothing new. Remember “Magnum P.I’s” Detroit Tigers hat? Hannibal Lecter L’Air du Temps perfume shout-out in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs”? The blue Gap dress that starred in the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky drama? Christine Blasey Ford’s Coca-Cola bottle during U.S. Supreme Court then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate hearing? The New York University T-shirts the title characters on the TV show “Will & Grace” favored?
“The big picture is we’re saturated with a brand consciousness that’s been created deliberately,” Killian said. “In this case, they could leverage ‘We’re so popular, we’re even in fictional places.’ If I were them, that’s what I would do.”
The big mystery remains how “GoT”-gate happened in the first place. Most experts think it wasn’t a sly product placement, but a true boo-boo.
“This is manna from heaven for so many film and production geeks,” said Syracuse University professor Les Rose.
He explained that it likely was a series of mistakes and someone could get fired. Had anyone noticed the cup while the episode was being edited, they could’ve used a different angle or a reaction shot instead. If the show was given to HBO late, not even the engineers who queue it up for the world to see would have had time to catch it.
“If so many people are staring at the same screen, it’s a hot mess. I just don’t understand how you have so many people from the director of photography to the camera operator and editor and set decorator all miss it other than they were all burned out,” he said. “Coffee cups are so ubiquitous on sets that it didn’t register in their brains at that level of exhaustion after 14-hour days.”
But Rose pointed out errors slipping through are to be expected from time to time, citing a “Die Hard 2” movie scene with Bruce Willis’ character talking on a payphone in Washington, D.C., that says Pacific Bell, a West Coast phone company, and the wristwatch worn by an ancient soldier in the classic film “Ben-Hur.”
If the Starbucks-“GoT” culprit is ever identified, that person will be infamous.
“They might have to have the nickname ‘Starbucks’ for rest of their life,” Rose said.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Zlati Meyer on Twitter: @ZlatiMeyer