Companies asking you for a donation at checkout isn't anything new.
But asking you to buy an item you can't actually have is a new twist.
"Nearly 250,000 hectares of land have been ravaged by wildfires in Spain this year, as heatwaves and a historic drought are leading to record devastation across Europe. As fires burn through agricultural areas, entire harvests are lost. To help out farmers, McDonald's Spain has created La hamburguesa que no pudo ser — the hamburger that couldn't be.
An empty, black hamburger box represents crops that were destroyed and farms that have lost their income. While McDonald's has committed to paying for part of the burned crops, it's also inviting customers to support affected farmers. By adding a non-existent burger to their regular order, they donate EUR 1."
You might argue the cost of the empty black box could have been put toward an incremental donation... but I wouldn't.
The box is a creative way to get people talking about a very important issue, which increases the chances of more people participating. And in that sense, the few pennies it would cost for the box would likely generate a significant return on investment from both a PR and word-of-mouth perspective.
Also, it's great McDonald's is not only enabling its customers to donate but also "committed to paying for part of the burned crops" itself, because large companies asking customers to donate without doing so themselves is just bad form.