October 11, 2013

Give the kids what they want! More books, fewer toys in Happy Meals!


McDonald’s doesn’t do things small (can you supersize that Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounder?), so it makes a certain amount of sense that when they decided to include children’s books in their Happy Meals, it would make them the biggest children’s book publisher in the world. According to USA Today, the two week McDonald’s promotion (Nov 1-14) will see more than 20 million paperback books put into Happy Meals. About that number, AdAge notes:

To put McDonald’s 20 million run into perspective, consider one of the most popular young-adult lines in recent years: post-apocalyptic trilogy The Hunger Games. (The eponymous first book came out in 2008, followed by Catching Fire in 2009, and Mockingjay in 2010.) In 2012, the year “The Hunger Games” film was released, the trilogy sold 27.7 million print and digital copies—15 million were print books, according to Publisher’s Weekly. So McDonald’s is set to give away in a two-week promotion 5 million more books than what “The Hunger Games” trilogy sold last year in print.

Rather than partner with a publisher or use existing books, as in their earlier book promotion in the UK, McDonald’s has decided to self-publish the four books starring McDonald’s characters. And whether going author-less in the U.S. was their choice, or they were unable to find anyone fit to take on the job, the books appear not to have credited authors. Instead, the books will be created by McDonald’s marketing firm, or as AdAge puts it, “The characters and storylines were created by Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, which handles the chain’s family and kids marketing.”

So what authentic, heart-warming stories will these author-less, committee-created books have to share? According to a McDonald’s spokeswoman quoted in USA Today, “the books, whose titles include The Goat Who Ate Everything and Doddi the Dodo Goes to Orlando, will focus on nutrition, imagination and active play.” I’ll let Consumerist explain further:

The first book is “The Goat Who Ate Everything,” which we had assumed was about a large-scale goat farm where farmers feed unnecessary antibiotics to the animals just to encourage muscle growth but end up causing a superbug that decimates the population. Alas, it’s apparently about a fat goat who learns to eat better.

“Deana’s Big Dreams,” is about some itty bitty dinosaur who grows tall after eating well (and, in an unpublished final chapter, grows ravenous and uncontrollable, devouring every living thing it passes). “Deana’s Big Dream” is also the title of a movie my friend Tom was accused of BitTorrenting via The Pirate Bay, but I’m pretty sure the two items are not related.

You’ll notice that while both books feature animals, neither animal will be found between a bun or battered and deep-fried at the Golden Arches.

According to GalleyCat, the non-profit literacy organization Reading Is Fundamental will partner with the fast food company, sharing 100,000 Happy Meal Books with  ”children who do not have easy access to books.” GalleyCat also reports that the promotion will continue online, where McDonald’s has partnered with Dorling Kindersley, and a new eBook will be “released and available for download at HappyMeal.com on a monthly basis throughout the rest of 2014.”

As always, Twitter is on the case, and Fast Company has rounded up some of the best #McBooks, including As I Lay Frying, The Catcher in the Fry, and Lord of the Fries.


Julia Fleischaker is the director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.