Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about the infamous coffee cup that was accidentally left in a scene of the fourth episode of this season’s “Game of Thrones.” If you missed it or aren’t a “Game of Thrones” fan, the cup sat in front of Daenerys, one of the central characters of the series, in a pivotal scene of the episode.
 
The moment it appeared on screen, social media exploded with reactions to the obscure mistake that suddenly had the world’s full attention. 
 
Here are some facts about the incident:
 
It was not a Starbucks cup, despite everyone’s assumption and all of the social media buzz. It was actually a generic cup from the production company’s craft services unit.

HBO has now digitally removed the cup from the episode.

The original broadcast was seen by over 17 million people, and the scene with the cup has been aired on most major news outlets in the world. If Starbucks had paid for the product placement, it would have cost them $250,000-plus.

In a testament to powerful branding, everyone assumed it was a Starbucks cup (all to-go cups are from Starbucks, you know), and tweets mentioning the brand were up 10 times the average (over 310,000) on Sunday night and Monday morning.

According to the media monitoring platform Critical Mention, the cup’s presence and the erroneous assumption that it was a Starbuck’s cup were worth a PR value of over $2 billion for Starbucks.

Starbucks wisely jumped on the opportunity, tweeted “TBH we’re surprised she didn’t order a Dragon Drink” and made hay of the blunder, promoting one of their signature drinks whose name and theme are aligned with the “Game of Thrones” era.
 
Odds are you don’t have $250,000 in your marketing budget for product placement, but that does not mean there aren’t some savvy takeaways for all of us from this incident.
 
Consistent branding matters: When you land on a brand (look, feel, voice, etc.) for your organization, leave it alone. All of this Hubba aloo (a technical marketing term) is because everyone saw the generic cup and made the association because Starbucks to-go cups have become ubiquitous in our world.
 
The spoils go to the alert: Opportunities fly by us, and if we aren’t paying attention, the window slams shut. Starbucks quickly jumped on the situation, tweeting and reacting on other social media channels by suggesting that Daenery should have gone with the Dragon Drink. 
 
When you make a mistake, don’t waste energy hiding it: In an era where Google knows and remembers everything, a mistake like the one HBO made is not going away. HBO wisely owned up to the error and even made a joke, saying that it was a mistake because Daenerys had actually ordered herbal tea. That sense of humor and humanity of just owning the gaffe earned HBO even more media buzz and fan love.
 
Product placement works: Sure, it costs $250,000 to be on “Game of Thrones,” but there are many product placement opportunities in a much more affordable range. Local clothing stores often outfit their city’s news anchors and not only get to show off their clothing but also get a logo mention at the end of every episode. Don’t assume this marketing tactic is out of reach for your business.
 
Most of the time, marketing works when it is well-planned and well-executed. But more and more, marketing is about being on your toes and seizing opportunities as they whiz by you. It can happen at any moment. Just ask Starbucks!