If what we ate had no consequences, I’d live on Chicken McNuggets. Yeah, I’ve seen the photo of that pinkish, chemical-soaked goo they’re made from. I don’t care. In this fantasy, there are no consequences.
Chicken McNuggets debuted in 1983. By the time I was consciously aware of what I was eating and not just chewing whatever someone put in front of me, they were already on the market. Like most of you, I never knew a world without McNuggets.
Delicious as they were, it’s not like my loyalty wasn’t coaxed. I’ve lost count of the McDonald’s commercials I’ve covered over the years, but I do know that Chicken McNuggets had some of the best ads of all. Appetizing, mesmerizing! Below are examinations of six ancient McNugget commercials, all wildly appealing in their own special ways.
You might remember this ad (and some of the others to come) from X-E. It’s probably my favorite McNugget commercial ever.
A kid named Brian is in class, simultaneously bored and starving. As he doodles away his troubles, what he puts to paper magically transforms into full color animation. In the big moment, his caricature hands him a cartoon McNugget, which then morphs into the real world version, letting Brian satisfy his cravings by eating in class.
This was not an unfamiliar conceit in old food commercials. I could easily name ten others that featured random junk food eerily materializing in a kid’s classroom. What makes this particular ad so special is Brian’s art. Those doodles were so colorful and erratic, and I very often tried to replicate his style in my own weird drawings.
So this commercial was as much an art lesson as a reminder that Chicken McNuggets were delicious. A PSA with benefits.
McNuggets Holiday 20-Packs! (Mid ‘80s)
McDonald’s made plenty of brilliant holiday-themed ads that so many of us still remember, and though this is far from the best of them, it still gets me *right here*.
In the ad, anthropomorphized Chicken McNuggets – looking quite “Muppety” — argue about what kind of party they’d like to be served at. I know that sounds weird, but it was par for the course with McNugget commercials.
Generally speaking, when the McNuggets were represented as actual characters, they seemed fine with being eaten. They accepted it as their collective destiny. And good for them! When you aim low, disappointment is rarer.
This is just one of several commercials that pitched big boxes of McNuggets as a “Christmas thing.” Let me tell you, I bought that shit, hook, line and sinker. Even if it’s something I never once saw in person, I grew up believing that families really did eat McNuggets for Christmas, and that companies really did make McNuggets the focus of their holiday parties.
Also, while the McNuggets would turn up as characters in many other ads, I think this was them at their cutest. I’d kill for a box of those guys, and it has nothing to do with eating them. I’d just pop open the lid and listen to ‘em gab. I would be Beau Bridges, the McNuggets my Sandkings.
Introducing Chicken McNuggets! (1982)
Well, this ad is marked “1982,” which disputes what I’ve read about McNuggets debuting in ‘83. Maybe 1982 was the “test market” portion of their sordid past?
This is the oldest ad I’m featuring, and it’s hilarious. The way people react to the new and seemingly miraculous McNuggets is something to behold. Everyone gets bug-eyed and crazy, as if their lives found new meaning the moment they bit into chunks of fried chicken. It goes well beyond any plausible reaction to something that just “tastes good.” The only thing missing was a switch from grayscale to color as they made those inaugural bites.
Also interesting is the fourth dipping sauce. “Honey.” Was that a thing for any of you? I can totally see it, but “honey” is news to me.
Chicken McNuggets Shanghai! (1987)
Ooof, this was a big one! Back in the days before YouTube and all that came with it, I was one of the many who desperately searched for proof of Chicken McNuggets Shanghai. It was a short-lived promotion, but sooo unforgettable.
Chicken McNuggets Shanghai came with chopsticks and a fortune cookie, in suitably thematic boxes. The dips were also redressed, and in typical McDonald’s fashion for that era, collectively branded as “oriental sauces.” (Shanghai Sweet ‘n Sour, Oriental Hot Mustard and Teriyaki.)
This is a tricky thing to celebrate. It’s not like I can defend the commercials, which, even if they weren’t actively racist, certainly perpetuated a few stereotypes. On the other hand, if we’re judging on sentiment, no malice was meant. As a kid, I thought this was enormously fun stuff, and I was so upset when Chicken McNuggets returned to normal.
(Side note: Back in 2008, I tried to recreate Chicken McNuggets Shanghai. It sure was fun to poke McNuggets with chopsticks one last time.)
Scared Silly! (1989)
Okay, it’s been more than ten years since I last mentioned this commercial, so I’m giving myself a pass.
This version shortens the “meat” to make room for a Happy Meal bumper, but I remember the full version perfectly. Titled “Scared Silly,” it featured a bunch of monstrous McNugget characters working in a castle laboratory, hoping to achieve new and improved dipping sauces. (Again with this? Not only were the McNuggets fine with being eaten, but they actively encouraged it.)
The Halloween motif is tremendous, in everything from the establishing shot of the McNuggets’ castle to the weird music that so desperately wants to be creepy but never quite gets there. Then there are the McNuggets themselves, each dressed like a different classic monster. (My favorite is “Dracula,” who I still want to recreate out of felt, googly eyes and a real McNugget. And I will, someday. I promise you this.)
Chicken McNuggets Super Value Pack! (1985)
Here’s where I’ll get into trouble, because the things I find appealing aren’t always the things normal people find appealing. I know I’ll gush for seventeen paragraphs just to be met with that awesome blend of apathy and confusion. Don’t fuck with me.
If you take the commercial at face value, it’s nothing special. Back in 1985, McDonald’s ran a promo where you’d get 24 McNuggets, two fries and two Cokes for one low price. Clap clap, clap clap clap.
But here’s the key point: Everything came in an exclusive and AMAZING box. A BIG RED BOX that was practically the size of a cooler, which somehow had spots for everything including the sodas. It’s like the box Petland provides when you get a rabbit.
I have no use for it, but at least at this moment, there is nothing I want more than a 1985 Super Value Pack box. I’d treat that garbage like gold. It’d get a spot on the mantel. It’d be dusted regularly. Should I be alarmed that an old fast food container could mean so much to me? Is this an indication that I haven’t been filling my days with enough actually-important things?
Think I’ll go cure a disease and repave an old lady’s sidewalk.
See you later.