May 23, 2017

McDonald’s is giving away books, but maybe hold your applause


Last year, fast food chain restaurant McDonald’s ran a two-week campaign that included books rather than toys in their signature children’s Happy Meals. We worried about parent pandering; we worried about greasy kid fingers. We did not worry so much about misdirection. The campaign came and went and was by many accounts a success: in partnership with Reading Is Fundamental, McDonald’s distributed more than 50 millions books to children between 2013 and 2016.

For the Los Angeles Times, Michael Schaub reports that now, in Canada, McDonald’s is not only offering books with its Happy Meals (children can choose a Beanie Boo (remember Beanie Babies?) instead, if they want) but also teaming up with children’s book publisher Kids Can Press and donating a book to First Book Canada for every social media “shelfie” that bears the hashtag #OwnaBookGiveaBook.

All sounds very nice.

But it’s also possibly a (not-so-)slick branding move from a corporation that has seen its fair share of scandal, particularly after Eat Drink Politics, Corporate Accountability International, and the Small Planet Fund released a report accusing the company of using “its so-called philanthropy programs to paint itself as an ally to children’s health and education and doing relatively little actually good.”

That report, “Clowning Around with Charity,” came out in 2013, the same year McDonald’s began its literary roll out. Hm! Coincidence? Or is it just, as Deena Shanker suggested in Salon, McDonald’s going “the extra mile to be totally, completely, and brazenly shitty.”



Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.