Media impresario Mark Burnett produced the games, which feature real-time 3-D environments where kids and their parents can control the camera views to explore the underground city of "Flushed Away" (the movie details the adventures of an uptown rat who is flushed into the sewers of London). AOL is hosting the games, which feature not only the animated film's characters, but also the brands of three major advertisers.
The deal represents a twist on in-game advertising-seen by many marketers as essential to reaching the 132 million teen and adult gamers nationwide. Indeed, spending on in-game advertising and product placement amounted to $56 million last year and will reach $730 million by 2010, according to research firm Yankee Group.
Computer-chip maker AMD, Kohl's Department Stores and Sara Lee Food & Beverage have each signed on to receive custom-developed integration throughout the games, as well as customized preroll videos and banner advertising. They're also getting an exclusive presence on KOL, AOL's website for kids, during the first several weeks of its launch.
As AOL restructures to rely solely on advertising, the Time Warner unit is being forced to get creative. Selling advertising against advertising is one example, and a win-win for everyone involved, according to Kathleen Kayse, exec VP-sales and partnership alliances, AOL Media Networks.
"While Dreamworks benefits from this online game by allowing parents and kids to interact with the film characters before the movie comes out, AOL is able to give sponsors a great opportunity to incorporate advertising into [the game]," she said.
The games mark the second partnership between Mark Burnett Productions and AOL this year: They also joined forces to create the pop-culture online reality game "Gold Rush." The "Flushed Away" games themselves will offer a series of online challenges featuring various characters, settings and storylines from the film.
The involvement of sponsors is a recurring theme for AOL/Burnett tie-ups. Gold Rush, for one, has five main advertisers-Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Washington Mutual, Chevrolet and T-Mobile-and locations for the game are often chosen explicitly to tie in with those advertisers. Coca-Cola's headquarters in Atlanta and Chevrolet's Detroit digs are both included in the "Gold Rush" storyline.