An advocacy group is criticizing McDonald's announcement that it will include books in its Happy Meals to promote literacy. The fast food chain, says Corporate Accountability International, is "trying to earn undeserved goodwill from the growing number of parents and health advocates who are calling on them to stop marketing to kids."
McDonald's, based in Oak Brook, Ill., said it will provide more than 20 million books to families in the U.S. The company is also giving 100,000 additional books to the literacy non-profit Reading is Fundamental. The Happy Meal four-book giveaway featuring McDonald's Happy Meal characters will begin on Nov. 1, which is National Family Literacy Day, and last for two weeks.
McDonald's has been aggressively trying to improve its menu offerings and image, announcing last month it would offer more fruits and vegetables.
Read More: McDonald's Promises More Fruits and Veggies
In July, the company announced lower-than-expected second-quarter earnings of $1.4 billion, but still up from $1.35 billion in the same period a year ago.
Corporate Accountability International, the group that brought a nine-year old girl to McDonald's shareholder meeting to scold CEO Don Thompson last May, is critical of McDonald's reading campaign.
The group's "Value the Meal" campaign director Sara Deon called it "a thinly-veiled promotion designed to get the brand in front of more kids and earn goodwill."
"By associating the brand with a message of healthy eating, it's tricking kids and parents into thinking that McDonald's has their best interests in mind," she said. "This move is clearly a reaction to growing pressure from parents and health professionals around the impact its marketing is having on kids – driving an epidemic of diet-related disease. This is not the change parents and health professionals have been demanding."
McDonald's said it is already planning its next Happy Meal Books program for 2015. The company is also offering families an interactive digital book each month through 2014, available on McPlay, McDonald's Happy Meal app.
Jesse Bragg, press secretary for Corporate Accountability International, said the campaign is "clearly about reinforcing brand loyalty among kids."