5) Halloween Pails
While the Halloween-themed pails aren't so bad in and of themselves (they're cute, I guess, and actually serve a function, supposedly -- though any Trick-or-Treater worth his glow stick would fill this mother with blackmailed candy several times over). What made these suck was that they didn't include a price -- they were the prize. Kids opened these up, waiting to see what was inside, and they got... nothing. Now, it's important to note that these buckets actually hearken back to the early days of McDonalds, when the activities on the boxes were thought to be the major draws. But were ad-men astute, they would have noticed that this idea fell away in favor of toys in little baggies nestled next to a sack of six fries and a burger the size of a beer coaster. This happened for a reason. And that reason is: no matter how fun the packaging is, what's inside still fucking counts.
4) Play-Doh Mini-Packs
This mid-'80s promotion must have seemed like a good idea at first. Little cardboard cylinders of Play-Doh -- and what kid doesn't like Play-Doh? Of course, it was a tiny amount of Play-Doh -- about the size of a McNugget. (And strangely? Healthier to consume.) And you only got one color at a time, which sort of sucked too. But ultimately, what puts it on this list is that this prize ended up being more of an invitation to get yelled at, because you're getting these at a drive-through, opening them up in the back seat of your Dad's company car, and getting it all over the upholstery. Of course, the real idea was that this was an easy deal to make; Play-Doh has had a relationship with McDonalds from way back, selling Happy Meal playsets in the stores, and Play-Doh packs in Happy Meals. Corporate synergy -- I'm lovin' it.
3) Ronald McDonald Sunglasses
The beauty of these frames, of course, is not just that they allow you to show off the fact that you've recently dined at Mickey D's, and that you're damn proud of it. More importantly, it creates a sort of symbiotic relationship with Ronald himself, as he springs from your head like Athena from the cranium of Zeus. In this, Ronald is sort of acting like your own personal walking-around valet, greeting everyone as you pass. He's like a forehead ambassador from McDonaldland (something you might think that Mayor McCheese would take on, since you know, he's already in politics). Sadly, what Ronald seems to be saying to everyone here is "please beat the crap out of whoever's wearing me." So you know, good with the bad, dark cloud, silver lining, all that.
This idea completely shot the shit out of the entire concept, and aimed Happy Meals at health-conscious adults. (Wait, what?) Yes, completely disregarding any demographic success the chain had ever had, they devised a brilliant strategy to put salads, water, and cheap, virtually non-functioning pedometers into Happy Meals. Aimed at people watching their weight. At McDonalds. With tons of extra packaging to boot, just in case these imaginary customers were also concerned for the environment, so that this would be a complete failure and the height of irony from any and all perspectives.
Man, did this Happy Meal end up in the wrong hands. Had this not been discovered by an 8-year-old Chicago girl in 2007, and instead been purchased by a couple of college kids with the munchies, it would find itself on the list of "Best Happy Meal Toys Ever." Alas, it was not to be. Instead, said pot (along with a lighter and a pipe, of course) led police to arrest the young man (and soon to be former McDonalds employee), who had needed a place to put his stash, and considered a stack of Happy Meal boxes kept right by the drive-through a good hiding place. (This is your brain on drugs, kids.) Of course, this inclusion to the McDonaldland mythoi does go a long way to explain the insatiable hunger of the Hamburglar, not to mention Grimace's very existence.