Friday, March 9, 2012

McDonalds Halloween Pails!

A Tribute To Trick Or Treat Buckets From A Bygone Era…

If there’s one thing 1980s sitcoms have taught me, it’s that when your other of significance tells you she has a “surprise” for you, it’s either something really, really uneventful (as in, “honey, the new Nicholas Sparks movie just came in from Netflix!”) or something you really, really don’t want to hear (as in, “honey, the test came back positive. Twice.”)

But, if you have a girlfriend as awesome as mine (which I doubt that you do), you occasionally get surprised…with old school, vintage McDonalds Halloween pails.

If you’re a member of my generation, you no doubt have fond recollections of the merchandise. Way back when, when you went into a McDonalds, you could ask for this thing called a “Happy Meal,” which consisted of a mini-hamburger, some fries and the real selling point, a plastic tie-in toy of some kind. You got some high-fat, deep-fried gunk to chew on, and something shiny and plastic-wrapped to play with for about five minutes before you got bored and threw it behind the couch, where odds are, a small cadre of mini-Transformers and Big Macs that turn into pterodactyls still take residence. Well, every now and then, the powers-that-were at McDonalds would offer larger premiums to complement their Happy Meal freebies, usually at a reduced price, and quite frequently for extremely limited windows of time.

The Halloween pails, originally released in 1986, were just such an item. The marketing witch doctors at McDonalds really worked their mojo on us, convincing us that these chunks of plastic - which really couldn’t have cost more than a couple of cents to mass produce - were not only worth the weighty price mark-up - not to mention the fact they were often stand-ins for all of those free toys we were used to - but actually worth collecting, too. Since the original 1986 line-up was so successful, the company re-released the buckets - with some obvious tweaks and redesigns - for several years afterward. In fact, the items became something of a neo-tradition for my generation, the kind of cultural investment that came to define our holistic Halloween experience just as much as “The Great Pumpkin” and those miniature candy bars shaped like Universal Monsters they used to sell at the Dollar General for a couple of weeks in October.

Alike so many notions of yesteryear, the Halloween pails eventually disappeared from McDonalds’ seasonal marketing strategy, and over the years, their very existence has slowly eroded from my own consciousness. In fact, I had almost forgotten about the items completely…that is, until recently, when my girlfriend received a very peculiar package in the mail.

Apparently, my (way, way) better half had been hitting up the ETSY lately, and a few weeks ago, she ordered a box of the afore-mentioned fast food premium items from some homemaker in Arizona. Several days ago, a mysterious, poorly wrapped box showed up on her doorstep, and inside a 15-year-old rice cooker package, there were the promised buckets, in all of their pre-Gulf War glory.

All in all, three pails were included in the package. The first two are actually first wave premium items, originally hailing from that golden epoch of 19 of eighty-six. 


Meet McPunk’n and McGoblin, millennials and Gen Y ne’er-do-wells! At first glance, these neon orange, plastic pails look pretty mundane, but just you wait! Not only do these things hold a moderate amount of candies (a full Werther’s bag, at the least), they also have the added incentives of having decorative holes drilled on top of them…

…can anybody else say “world’s most awesome low budget Halloween chandeliers” in about seven months’ time?

Clearly, the coolest of the trio has to be this ghostly bucket, which in addition to looking groovy as all hell, ALSO has a secret cookie cutter hidden in his dome.

Needless to say, there’s going to be spectral desserts doled en masse come All Hallows Eve 2012, that’s for darned sure.

After doing some research, I found out that the ghost bucket was actually released five years after the first two, making its market debut in 1991. Although the seasonal items produced by the world’s largest fast food manufacturer were fairly popular throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, by the time “Friends” and Hootie and the Blowfish rolled around, the items were about as passé as Yikes!-branded pencils and that blue and green popcorn that you had probably forgotten all about until right about now. After old ghosty here was released, McDonalds spat out a couple of more variations for a few seasons, but its viability as a marketing hook had long crept past its expiration date already. And for those of you in dire need of the complete history of McDonalds’ Halloween pails, there are people out there that have done research on the merchandise to such an exhaustive extent that you kind of wonder where our generation would be if we actually cared about things that mattered, like healthcare and politics…but yeah, what the hell ever.

Alas, like those Styrofoam plates they used to put all their hamburgers in and such short lived marketing gimmicks as Mac Tonight and the Arch Deluxe, the annual Halloween pails seemed to have become discontinued relics of a bygone era, the sort of simplistic, ultra-utilitarian good that no kid in their right mind would find “awesome” in this day and age. Outmoded, outdated, anachronistic and antiquated, the McDonalds Halloween pails are the sort of consumer-curiosities that have survived out of sheer reverence for the past, throwaway memorabilia discarded by the forward movement of time and commerce, only to be rescued from the cultural refuse bin by all of us Reagan babies with a fond, genuine veneration for what once was, and what shall never be again.

That, and I swear, there was a Frankenstein shaped one released around 1993. I’m almost certain of it…


  1. I had the Frankenstein, and I seem to remember a witch one, although I may be imagining it.

  2. If I recall there was a purple witch, orange goblin and pumpkin, green Frankenstein's Monster, white ghost, and if I recall correctly a white skeleton.