McDonald’s Replaces Happy Meal Toys With Books

McDonald’s Replaces Happy Meal Toys With Books

U.K. restaurants will start putting children’s reading material into their signature kids menu to promote literacy and healthy minds.

Ryan Gerhardt
  • 14 january 2013

The best part of a McDonald’s Happy Meal, aside from the fries, has always been the cheap, promotional toy. Often, parents use the toy as ‘leverage’ to get their children to eat their entire meal. Now, U.K. McDonald’s are hoping that a slight change will make their Happy Meal ‘prize’ more beneficial for children.

In recent years, McDonald’s has done much to try and improve the nutritional value of their food offerings, specifically Happy Meals. Already providing the option to replace fries with apple slices and sugary soda with a fizzy-juice alternative called Fruitizz (only available in the U.K.), McDonald’s is now aiming to promote healthy minds through books, in addition to healthier bodies.

The fast food giant launched a 5-week promotion in the U.K. this past weekend for their ‘Happy Readers’ campaign, which is anticipated to distribute over 15 million fiction and nonfiction books to children by the end of 2014 – in place of toys. The initial launch will feature nonfiction books from the popular DK Book’s Amazing World series, covering topics like stars and planets, big cats, and the oceans.


The campaign, assuming it achieves its goal of handing out a book with every Happy Meal, would make McDonald’s the largest children’s book distributor in the U.K. McDonald’s is working to partner with publishers and retailers for the success of the initiative, and has already started working in cooperation with the retailer W.H. Smith to allow customers to redeem books of their choice at the retail shops.

The initiative is receiving great support from Britain’s National Literacy Trust (NLT), which has found through recent studies that over 30% of U.K. children don’t own any books of their own, and 50% of U.K. children don’t find reading enjoyable.

The director of the National Literacy Trust, Jonathan Douglas, adds that:

Our research tells us that there is a very clear link between book ownership and children’s future success in life…[and] [i]nitiatives like McDonald’s Happy Readers campaign play an important role in getting more books into the hands of children, and inspiring families to read together as a fun and interactive pastime.

In recent years, McDonald’s has definitely been on the leading edge of repositioning for fast food brands – far out-pacing competitors. Healthier food options, sponsoring fitness initiatives in conjunction with the London Olympics, temporary name changes, and now literacy improvement. Will it be successful, or just a hollow gesture? Considering they distributed 9 million books last year through a similar pilot program, this idea has potential to succeed.


But will children stop begging for Happy Meals if you take out all the ‘good stuff?’ That remains to be seen, but at the very least the ‘Happy Readers’ campaign appears to be a step in the right direction for the food giant. It has not been announced or intimated that the campaign will be brought to U.S. locations, but maybe a successful run in the U.K. will convince McDonald’s to implement the initiative worldwide.


Images by Daniel Lynch/Blue Rubicon/PA, brandchannel, and McDonald’s


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