“Beanz meanz Heinz” has been an advertising slogan for Heinz Baked Beans since 1967. It’s a classic, simple motto from advertising days of yore where not everything had to be a pun or fake cutesy copy on a smoothie.

And in 2017, Heinz launched a campaign to celebrate 50 years of this slogan. It was a great, simple campaign – a website that let you add a custom name to a can to order for yourself.

an example of the website, featuring a can that says "beanz meanz shrek"

Sure, it was a bit of a rip-off of Coca-Cola’s ‘share a coke’ campaign from 2013. But it’s fun, harmless, and a source of that oh-so-valuable user-generated content that’s all the rage in marketing right now. (As a marketer myself I can promise you, it can massively outperform original owned content).

But these things typically go wrong. Lest we forget another 2017 campaign, where Walkers invited fans to send in a selfie of themselves for Gary Lineker to hold up, for a chance to win football tickets. As the BBC reported: “within hours… their crisp-eater-in-chief Gary Lineker has been pictured clutching photos of Fred West and Harold Shipman in online videos on Twitter.

In short, the general public are not to be trusted. But Heinz are no fools! For their name-on-a-can campaign, they compiled a do-not-allow list of various names that they wouldn’t let you put on a can. Smart stuff, Heinz!

And by taking a look at the code running the (now inactive) site, we can get a fascinating glimpse of what those savvy marketers wanted to avoid. And more than that, the list is a reflection of where we were at in 2017. What were our biggest fears as a society? Let’s take a look, shall we?

a google sheet of some of the names that Heinz didn't allow

The full list is 3,367 terms strong. All the usual curses are in there, along with some… interesting variants. We have both asshat and assclown for instance – I guess they couldn’t get wildcard characters to work properly.

But there’s also a bunch of seemingly innocuous stuff in there: children, internet, kiss. Not quite sure what they were trying to avoid but sure.

Next up we have the ‘this would be embarrassing’ category. These are things that would look bad for Heinz to have printed on a can about themselves. In the list, we find sugar, salt, & obesity. This is fair enough, I suppose but probably overkill. Heinz Baked Beans aren’t regarded as a life-giving superfood, but there’s one of the food industry’s lesser ills – right? Oh well, can’t blame them for being paranoid.

It’s at this point I wonder how exactly this list was made. I’ve had to implement blocklists before on moderated sites and it’s a gruelling task, sitting down and thinking up slurs. It’s much easier to just import a list someone else has written, which is probably what they’ve done for the bulk of this. But it’s the ones they’ve added in extra that I find fascinating. What didn’t Heinz want us to know about offshore or Scotland? What didn’t they want us to know?

The really interesting stuff comes in the ones they’ve added because of sensitive events. In the list we find:

  • Grenfell
  • Finsbury (this campaign was just 4 months after the 2017 Mosque attack)
  • Weinstein
  • Bataclan
  • WhiteNat
  • EgyptAir (from the hostage incident)
  • GamerGat
  • LeeRigby

And that’s just a small sample.

So, what does this list tell us about the state of things in 2017? Can we put together a picture of what society looked like then? Well, it’s clear things are in a bit of a state of disarray. There’s a genuine panic about things (the existence of this alone proves there). There’s fear about violence, particularly of an insurgent nature (lonewolf is in there). White nationalism is rising, in the crucible of Gamergate, and domestic terrorism is becoming a real threat with events happening in the ground in the UK and Europe.

What’s not in the list, though? There’s no mention of Brexit. Theresa May comes out unscathed. There’s not a whisper of Trump, Putin, or Merkel. So presumably Heinz were ok with a can saying BEANS MEINZ FARAGE. Or maybe they just didn’t think of it.

Do we live in a more politicised time, just three years later? I feel these things would all be added today, along with newer concerns like ‘Epstein’ and ‘Andrew.’

It seems unlikely that Heinz, or any sensible brand, would run this kind of campaign again today, so maybe we’ll never know. But I’m still glad we have this weird, paranoid slice of 2017 as a record of our shared unconscious.

Read the full list here.