If you know anything about product marketing, you know that product placement in TV and movies is big business. From the clothes to the characters wear to the cars that they drive, you might be surprised who’s paying to have their product on display in front of a TV audience. And beer is no different. Apparently, Heineken paid about $45 million for product placement in the 2012 James Bond film Skyfall (despite the fact that James Bond’s love of martinis is well-documented).
That’s far from the only example of beer companies using product placement as an advertising tactic. But, what happens when TV producers aren’t approached by any beer companies about product placement? What happens when you need a nice, generic beer from a fake company that won’t sue you for using its product unjustly? Enter Heisler: TV’s favorite fake beer brand. And, in case you don’t immediately recognize the name Heisler, allow me to just rattle off a few of the shows and movies it’s appeared in:
- Blue Mountain State
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine
- Burn Notice
- Criminal Minds
- Fear the Walking Dead
- I Think You Should Leave
- It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
- Malcolm In the Middle
- My Name Is Earl
- New Girl
- Pretty Little Liars
- Prison Break
- Star Trek: Enterprise
- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
- The Good Place
- The League
- The Social Network
- The Vampire Diaries
- Training Day
And that’s not even an exhaustive list! Yes, any time that you see a character in a TV show or movie drinking a beer, there’s a pretty solid chance that it has the name “Heisler” plastered on the side of it (pun intended).
But, how did Heisler become the Bud Light of fake beers, the ubiquitous malty beverage of Hollywood’s fictional characters? Let’s look at Heisler’s rise to stardom and how it’s built up a filmography longer than your favorite actor’s.
Where Does Heisler Come From?
Heisler is a fake brand of beer produced by Independent Studio Services, which is pretty much the Amazon of the movie prop world. The Heisler brand is one of 40 different fake beer labels created by Studio Graphics, the in-house graphic design team at Independent Studio Services.
At first, they only produced the original Heisler gold ale. However, since the fake beer brand has exploded in popularity, they’ve begun producing Heisler Lite as well as a vintage label for shows or movies set before the 1980s. They also sell Heisler in both cans and bottles (and even in breakable bottles, just in case it needs to be smashed over someone’s head).
In terms of why Heisler is the most popular beer brand among the 40 labels produced by Studio Graphics, it seems like it’s really just a matter of preference. While other fake beers like El Braza, Cerveza Clara, and American Colonial can found on Hollywood sets from time to time, there’s nothing that compares to the classic German feel of the Heisler brand.
In fact, Heisler has become such a staple of on-screen drinking culture that Independent Studio Services actually felt the need to patent it. Apparently, the legal process to do so is quite strange and difficult due to the fact that Heisler is not a real beer yet they’re trying to patent it like it is. Regardless, you may want to hold off on selling your own Heisler beer or you might get sued.
What’s Inside a Heisler?
If you pop the cap off of a bottle of Heisler, what do you think you’ll find? Water? Sparkling water? Real beer? Well, it turns out that every bottle and can of Heisler leaves Independent Studio Services full of non-alcoholic beer. So, if a character should want to gently pour their Heisler into a glass, it’ll look just like real beer. If they want to dump it into a beer bong and make a fool of themselves on spring break, that’ll look real too.
However, apparently, a lot of non-alcoholic beer gets wasted on sets where Heisler is found. As actors don’t want to consume quantities of non-alcoholic beer in the double-digit range, they often pour out the cans or bottles and fill them with water or sparkling water. Thus, the actors can drink their beer take after take without getting sick (or, worse, filling up on carbs).
If you were under the impression that those cans of Heisler on TV were full of real, alcoholic beer, then I’m sorry to disappoint. But imagine how drunk actors would get if they had to drink alcoholic beer for each take of a scene that requires 50 takes. If they were drinking real beer, the entire cast of Blue Mountain State would be a case study on liver failure.
Why Don’t They Just Use Real Beer Brands?
One of the main reasons that Heisler has become so popular is that it’s extremely hard to broker product placement deals with beer companies. That’s because, in most cases, TV and movies don’t show their products in a positive light. Think about it: rarely do you see a character drinking a beer on-screen and then delivering a Noble Prize acceptance speech or reading a bedtime story to their child. More often, you see someone drinking a beer and then behaving like an oaf or getting in a fight.
For instance, one show that has put the Heisler name in the limelight is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a series in which the characters spend a very large portion of their time drinking. The other portion of their time is spent being generally awful human beings, conning people, uttering racist slurs, and vandalizing property. I don’t think there’s a real beer company out there that wants to send the message: “Drink our beer! It’ll make you just like these people!”
Another show that’s had a major hand in spreading brand awareness for Heisler is Workaholics. This series depicts its three main characters drinking can after can of Heisler on their roof before descending into their filthy home and spewing misogynistic garbage from their mouths. The only time they cease drinking Heisler (sometimes) is to go underachieve at their telemarketer jobs. I don’t think any real beer brand wants to be associated with these kinds of characters.
So, Heisler fills the gap by filling the bellies of TV’s most notorious drunks. And Independent Studio Services couldn’t care less about the perception of Heisler among the populous. They’re only concerned with selling their products to TV and film producers.
Who Is Heisler?
Well, now that you know why Heisler is so popular, who makes it, and what’s inside a bottle, there’s still one question yet to be answered: Who is Heisler? It has to be named after somebody, right? Well, the answer is that no one really knows.
The name Heisler, obviously, is of German origin. The name first appeared in records from Bavaria in the southern part of Germany. And a man named Peter Heisler is known to have migrated from Germany to North America as early as 1748 (before the formation of the United States).
However, no one really knows who the fake beer company was named after. And, according to the crew at Independent Studio Services, no one can remember who named the fake beer brand in the first place. I suppose the origins of the Heisler fake beer brand will forever be a mystery.