As part of a new multi-year campaign, McDonald's has announced it will give away 20 million kids' books with its Happy Meals starting next month. In the first promotion phase, the restaurant chain will offer four different books – which will replace toys in Happy Meals – between November 1 and November 14.
"We think that this is a fun and engaging way to give a nutritional message to kids," said Ubong Ituen, vice president of marketing for McDonald's USA. "This is really the first step in a larger book strategy, and our intent is to continue over several years."
The four books include titles like "The Goat Who Ate Everything" and "Deana's Big Dreams." The former tells of a goat with a big appetite that learns to control its eating and the latter features a small dinosaur that grows tall by eating properly. The book release is set to begin on National Literacy Day.
The promotion of the four books, which don't involve traditional restaurant characters like Ronald McDonald, is the chain's latest response to critics of its marketing message. Consumer advocacy groups have long argued that McDonald's Happy Meal toy promotions have been deceptive and sought to lure children into restaurants with no regard for nutrition or good health. McDonald's has vigorously defended its advertising, even vowing in 2011 to produce strictly nutrition-friendly campaigns for kids going forward.
Subsequently, according to Kantar Media, McDonald's has cut its media spending to promote Happy Meals. In 2011, McDonald's spent about $95 million to advertise Happy Meals. Last year, the chain spent just $57.4 million in the U.S. and it's on pace for even less related spending in 2013, data shows. McDonald's, meanwhile, contends its latest marketing plans are appropriate and responsible, with the book promotion simply another component of an improved strategy.
The U.S. book promotion comes after a similar Happy Meal tie-in overseas in Great Britain earlier this year. McDonald's has estimated it will, at least temporarily, become the largest children's book distributor in England, with a total of 15 million books given out by the end of 2014.
No other restaurant chains have announced kids' meal book promotions to date. "Perhaps McDonald's will help bring the value of books to the forefront," said Roni Wright, vice president of The Book Company (asi/41010). "McDonald's has validated that books are an extremely meaningful and powerful promotional product – something we've known for years."