Five of McDonald's Best Halloween Promotions

It's no shock to longtime readers of this site, but it's something people don't often mention these days for fear of social ostracising.  So here goes my confession:  I am a huge fan of McDonald's.  

Sure, their food isn't healthy and yes the menu isn't nearly as good as many restaurants, but the Golden Arches will always hold a special place in my heart.  

My Mom would take me on occasional weekday afternoons or Saturday mornings while running errands and it was a special treat that always meant a lot to me.  When I was young, my family often ordered Chinese food on Fridays or special events like birthdays when we did take-out for dinner.  I didn't like Chinese food as a kid, so my parents would always take a special trip to the drive-thru at McDonald's for a cheeseburger and fries just for me.  

Thinking back on McDonald's reminds me of those trips with Mom when I was really young or those Christmas mornings looking forward to the gift certificate coupon booklets in my stocking, WHICH YOU CAN READ ABOUT HERE.

My wife reminded me a few weeks ago about another special memory of McDonald's that hadn't occurred to me in over a decade.  It turns out that when we both first learned to drive, the McDonald's drive-thru was one of the first places we headed to in order to feel more like "an adult."  We used our newfound independence by ordering our own meals from the driver's seat for the first time.

With the recent news that the McDonald's Halloween Happy Meal Pails are coming back, I thought it'd be a great time to open up our 2022 Halloween season by looking back at 5 of McDonald's classic Halloween promotions. 

So, without further ado, let's get into what I consider Five of McDonald's Best Halloween Promotions!

1.  Halloween McNugget Buddies (1993 and 1996)

This is probably my favorite Halloween promotion, so I wanted to get to it first.  Just days before I wrote this, my wife was getting the Halloween decorations out and handed our daughter a bag of Halloween toys.  She sifted through the bag and pulled out these little McNugget Buddies immediately.  She loved them!  Who wouldn't, right?  

Chicken McNuggets debuted on the McDonald's menu in 1983 and not long after, the McNugget Buddies started appearing in commercials.  These talking puppet versions of the chicken finger snacks all had various jobs and personalities.  Eventually, in 1993 (and again in 1996,) McDonald's launched the best McDonald's-themed Happy Meal toys with Halloween McNugget Buddies!  Ok, the McDonald's Food Changeables come in a close second, but they aren't Halloween related so we'll save that discussion for another day.

The original set of McNugget Buddies Happy Meal toys was released five years prior in December of 1988 to promote the creation of the McNugget Happy Meal, offering a substitution of a four-piece box of McNuggets instead of the classic cheeseburger.  Lasting five weeks, this promotion distributed two toys per week.  The toy bags featured a mini-biography, giving the McNugget Buddy an individual personality and backstory.   Each McNugget Buddy had a career or activity attached to it and was appropriately named: Corny (Popcorn Vendor), Volley (Tennis), First Class (Mail Carrier), Drummer (Musician), Sarge (Policeman), Sparky (Firefighter), Rocker (Hair/Glam Band Musician), Boomerang (Crocodile Dundee style Aussie), Cowpoke (Cowboy), and Snorkel (Deep Sea Diver).  

The McNugget Buddies disappeared from advertising after a while but returned in 1993 as Halloween toys!  Instead of Policeman and Tennis Stars, these McNugget Buddies were ready for some trick-or-treating!  McBoo, Mummie, Monster, Witchie, McNuggula, and Pumpkin McNugget were also given self-explanatory names this time.  They also were met with criticism from children and collectors over the construction and design change from the original McNugget Buddies.  The originals were solid, sturdy rubber with thin, flimsy accessories.  The Halloween McNugget Buddies were almost the exact opposite, with sturdy accessories and thin, hollow plastic McNugget bodies.  

The Buddies would return one last time in 1996 when six new McNuggets were added to the family.  Alien, Ronald, Dragon, Spider, Fairy Princess, and Rock Star McNugget were the latest additions to the lineup.  

Like the other McDonaldland characters, the McNugget Buddies were officially retired in 2007 as victims of anti-obesity lobbyists.  

2.  Roger Rabbit Halloween Certificates (1989)

During the summer of 1988, Who Framed Roger Rabbit debuted to critical acclaim and much success at the box office.  By 1989, Roger Rabbit merchandise was in high demand and hard to find.  Enter McDonald's in October of 1989 when they launched a Halloween promotion using something that would likely need to be explained to children of this millennia, coupon-style gift certificates!  

Admittedly, this isn't a *great* Halloween promotion, but I've written before about my love of the McDonald's gift certificates HERE, so this automatically gets an entry into my list.  These coupon booklets were great for us kids and a great way for McDonald's to get our parents to buy more meals.  Sure, we can turn in a coupon for ice cream or small fries, but Mom or Dad would likely buy themselves lunch, too.  

Roger Rabbit merchandise demand was at its peak in 1989, and this gift certificate promotion didn't disappoint once you got your really cool Roger Rabbit.  Bear in mind this suction cup doll was not a Happy Meal toy or one of those deals where you'd pay an extra buck or two to get the "limited edition item," this was something you had to work for.  You had to purchase the Roger Rabbit VHS tape, a meal at McDonald's to get the mail-away certificate, and then pay additional shipping and handling fees.

The commercial below has the added bonus of being narrated by Herman Munster himself, Fred Gwynne.  I think it's subtle (as most people probably wouldn't immediately recognize the voice) and a great nod to Halloween's monsters (and Munsters).  

If you'd like to read about this promotion and see the certificates in a bit more detail, please read an article I posted last October by CLICKING HERE TO READ ABOUT IT.  

3.  Halloweenland Figures and Casette Tapes (1995)

One of the Happy Meal Toys I played with the most was the Looney Tunes/DC Comics toys.  I must have played with that Daffy Duck dressed as Batman figure until the "snaps" on the costume stopped working and I was just stuck with a Daffy Duck and a Batman costume he couldn't wear anymore.  

What does that have to do with Halloween?  Well, in 1995 Mcdonald's residents of "McDonaldLand" were renamed "HalloweenLand" and given a similar style of snappable costumes like the Looney Tunes predecesor.  These were generic Halloween costumes, but if someone isn't dressed as a Ghost or Pumpkin, is it really Halloween?  The cool thing about these costumes is that you could mix and match them since they snapped on and off like the Looney Tunes ones.    

The Hamburglar comes dressed as, what I believe, to be a witch.  Grimace is dressed as a ghost, while Birdie is a pumpkin.  The advertising shows Ronald McDonald as himself with the caption "What am I going to be for Halloween?"  18-year-old spoiler:  he's Frankenstein.  

If you didn't get one of the four figures with your Happy Meal, you'd receive one of four cassette tapes (music before CDs, for you kids) that featured original "spooky" music.  The titles included:  "Ronald Makes It Magic," "Travel Tunes," "Silly Sing Along," and "Scary Sound Effects."

4.  The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald: "Scared Silly" (1998)

By 1998, I was past the point of getting Happy Meals when we went to McDonald's.  Then again, I frequently did things well past the age I should have been doing things, so it wasn't out of the realm when I'd ask for a Happy Meal if there was a cool toy or a favorite franchise involved.

In 1998, McDonald's began producing a series of 6 long-form cartoon movies (direct-to-VHS) featuring the McDonaldLand gang.  The animation looked familiar, and my research for this article discovered why.  In the mid-1990s, who would a company as big as McDonald's approach to creating a new feature cartoon?  Klasky Csupo (pronounced more like Chew-Po), of course.  

I'm sure that name means nothing to most of you, but they were the powerhouse animation company in the 90s behind the poorly drawn Nickelodeon cartoons "The Rugrats" and "The Wild Thornberrys."  After finding this out, I immediately realized why the animation style disturbed me.  I never cared for that "make it look like I drew this with my non-dominant hand" style of animation that was the rage in the late 90s.  

If the animation style wasn't bad enough, they also combined live-action craziness and some extremely low-budget (even for 1998) computer-generated animation.  

It's so bad, it's good!

5.  The Halloween Happy Meal Pails

Last but certainly not least on this list is the Halloween Happy Meal Pails.  These items are so popular McDonald's is bringing them back for 2022!  

When McDonald's first released the line of pails in 1986, they were for the express purpose of collecting Halloween candy.  Much to many Trick-or-Treater's disappointment, the small buckets didn't hold all of the loot from your candy haul and were promptly tossed aside for a larger bag or pillowcase.  With a useless bucket, children weren't exactly lining up to buy a second one, but the best thing about these buckets was their ability to be multi-purposed.  I used my buckets year-round as containers for Legos, action figure accessories, and more.  

The buckets returned in 1987 but took a one-year hiatus until 1989 with a complete remodel.  

This time they featured a new white ghost and green witch varieties, along with the classic orange pumpkin.  While nobody was going to actually use these as a trick-or-treating bucket, we definitely had to get Mom and Dad to run out and get the new additions!  

In 1990, McDonald's brought the buckets out with a new redesign.  McWitch got a friendlier, more cartoony face and the McGhost pail glowed in the dark.  

In 1991, the pails took another year off when they were replaced with McBoo bags, a cartoony vinyl bag with images of a ghost, a witch, or Frankenstein.  

In 1992, the buckets returned with an upgraded lid that featured a detachable cookie-cutter, while McGhost no longer glowed in the dark.   

1993 saw another hiatus for the Halloween Pails, but 1994 saw them totally redesigned in an attempt to "modernize" the artwork.  The ghost pail had a whole scene, the witch was colored purple, and the pumpkin had a dumb look on its face.  

After 1994, the buckets went back on the shelf until 1999, when the pails returned but didn't have faces painted on them.  There were also only two pails available, one orange and one white.  Both had wrap-around images of McDonald's characters on a spooky adventure.

In 2001, the lids were removed altogether when, again, only a white or orange bucket was offered.  

The pails returned 9 years later in 2010, with a themed Mr. Potato Head trick-or-treat bucket.  In 2011, a monster or pumpkin was offered.  In 2012, a Scooby-Doo-themed pail was the only one available while in 2013, the buckets were sponsored by Mattel's "Monster High."  2014's buckets were a tie-in with "The Book of Life," an animated movie based on Day of the Dead.  In 2015, Halloween offered a Minions-themed set of buckets.  

The final year for Halloween pails, 2016, saw likely the best of the "sponsorship era" when they offered "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" themed pails.

Since 2016, McDonald's has barely even celebrated Halloween.  Until 2022!

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