Sometimes, the easiest way for a company to promote its product on television is to pay for it. In 2002, Coca-Cola paid an initial $10 million to put red Coke cups in the hands of the judges on American Idol. Similarly, Sears shelled out an estimated $3.2 million to make sure the tools the builders were using on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition were Craftsman brand. But some lucky companies have managed to make a splash on the small screen completely by accident. Read on to learn more about five instances in which television shows offered a casual shout-out to a brand or product that resulted in a huge sales bump.
1. BREAKING BAD / BETTER CALL SAUL // CINNABON
The relationship between Cinnabon and the creators of Breaking Bad and, now, Better Call Saul, happened by accident. In one of the final episodes of Breaking Bad, attorney Saul Goodman half-jokes to his science teacher-turned-drug kingpin client Walter White that his best hope for the future includes running a Cinnabon in Omaha. It was a throwaway line that refused to go away.
Jonathan Brewer, director of awesome for BTC Revolutions, Cinnabon's ad agency, told Ad Week that while the company was unaware that the reference was happening, they felt the impact almost instantly. Once tweets started pouring in after the show’s airing on the east coast, Cinnabon quickly jumped on the bandwagon. The company tweeted at Bob Odenkirk, the actor who portrays Goodman, to ask when he would like to sit down for an interview and sent him a link to their employment application. Many phone calls and one cinnamon roll-making training course later, Better Call Saul filmed the first scene of the spin-off series at a familiar location: an Albuquerque Cinnabon.
2. TRUE DETECTIVE // THE KING IN YELLOW
When attempting to solve a mystery, it’s necessary to follow every clue. Which is exactly what hardcore fans of True Detective did in the middle of the series’ first season. Viewers following the investigation or trying to make sense out of Rust Cohle’s (Matthew McConaughey) monologues fought to get their hands on a copy of The King in Yellow, a collection of short stories by Robert Chambers, after several references to the 19th-century classic of “weird fiction” appeared on the show.
After one particularly reference-laden episode, sales of the book shot up 71 percent within 24 hours on Amazon and landed the book at number seven on the site’s bestsellers list. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, confirmed that references to the work were indeed intentional. But diving into the stories is not for the faint of heart. The Wall Street Journal warned that the book, which blends science fiction, fantasy, and supernatural elements, “plunges its readers into despair or drives them out of their minds (not with pleasure).”
3. HOUSE OF CARDS // MONUMENT VALLEY
Fans of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards know that Frank Underwood lets off steam with a good old first-person shooter video game. However, in season three, Underwood took a break from his presidential duties with the less-violent indie game Monument Valley.
Writers on House of Cards were fans of Monument Valley before its appearance on the show and reached out to the game’s creators for permission to install the app on Underwood’s iPad. “I would really love to say that we have the best marketing strategy in the world and that we planned everything," executive producer Daniel Gray told GameSpot. "But the reality of it is that the writers reached out to us and they said, 'Guys, we really, really love your game and we've already had it in our minds that we want to write about it; do we have your permission to use it?'"
The company jumped at the chance, and it has paid off in big ways. A week after the House of Cards episode aired, the number of downloads of the game increased eight-fold. The game went on to win an Apple Design Award in 2014 and BAFTAs for Best British Game and Best Mobile Game.
// YORKSHIRE GOLD TEA
Since they began blending tea in North Yorkshire, England in 1885, Taylors of Harrogate—the tea masters behind the Yorkshire label—have acquired quite a few celebrity fans. Sigourney Weaver is said to have introduced it to costars while on set, and Russell Crowe reportedly chooses the brand over all others for his daily cups of tea. But it wasn’t until Yorkshire Gold, the company’s flagship blend, was revealed to be the favorite tea of ex-POW and suspected terrorist Nicholas Brody on Homeland that Americans looked up from their cups of coffee and started to take notice.
“We were an integral part of one of the TV blockbusters of the year; our Twitter feed went crazy,” remarked Sam Ward, the brand’s public relations manager. “We could never have afforded product placement like that. We found out that one of the producers was a fan.”
5. BREAKING BAD // GARDUÑO’S OF MEXICO
In its final season, Breaking Bad gave yet another business a major bounce. In a particularly tense scene between Walter and Skyler White and Hank and Marie Schrader, the couples are sitting at New Mexico restaurant chain Garduñdo’s. Throughout their conversation, a very insistent waiter tries to convince the Whites to order some tableside guacamole in an interaction that was later dubbed “awkward guacamole.”
Though the quartet declined the fresh-made guac, fans of the show soon flocked to the restaurant and decided to take their waiters up on that offer. Orders of tableside guacamole increased by five percent after the episode, with many customers specifically citing Breaking Bad as their reason for doing so. “It’s been pretty funny,” corporate general manager Warren Gaustad told The Wrap. “We’ve had a lot of people coming in to take pictures and wanting to sit at the table where the characters sat.”