Why McDonald's Literacy Campaign is Not Really About Getting Kids to Read

Who knew McDonald's would come to discuss books, of all things, along with their menus, ingredients, and calories? The world's largest fast food chain suddenly seems to care about the National Family Literacy Day, which is on Nov. 1. On Oct. 10, McDonald's USA announced its "Happy Meal Books promotion," which offers customers one of four "original," "limited-edition" books with a Happy Meal order during the first two weeks of November.

On the surface, this promotion sounds great. McDonald's is teaming up with Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), America's "largest children's literacy nonprofit," and is offering free books, filling a need that greatly affects those on lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. However, with a closer look at the Happy Meal business and what McDonald's is really suggesting, it's easy to see that the promotion is yet another positive PR campaign.

Happy Meals are the fourth-highest selling item on the McDonald's menu, representing $3 billion in McDonald's annual sales, which exceeds the total sales revenue for Burger King and Wendy's. McDonald's, as a result, is the world's largest distributor of toys.

That said, a new two-week promotion would hardly make a dent in this multi-billion dollar corporation, regardless of its impact on sales.

McDonald's argued it will provide "more than 20 million books to families." RIF's CEO Carol Hampton Rasco said that this could "truly help enrich kids' lives." All of the four books that will do the magic are about eating healthy. In other words, McDonald's is expecting the children to dream of growing taller and healthier while munching on their Chicken McNuggets that "contain roughly 30 ingredients" including sodium aluminum phosphate.

If McDonald's really focused on caring for children rather than boosting its revenues, they might have approached this initiative in other ways. They could have become one of RIF's supporters, or simply made book donations. But getting an advertising company to create characters and story lines for its own "Happy Meal Books" and distributing 100,000 of them through a nonprofit organization most certainly isn't a way.