Talking Newspapers Startle Readers in India

Police bomb squads respond to Indians surprised by talking newspapers.

Sept. 27, 2010— -- From tech savvy India, another first: "talking newspapers."

The Times of India and The Hindu, two of the largest circulated papers in the world, released a special advertisement in their daily papers Tuesday, launching Volkswagen's new sedan, the Vento.

When readers opened the paper to the back page, a light-sensitive, voice activated chip began reading out why you buy their new automobile. The "talking" advertisement — an audio rendering of the print commercial similar to a radio ad —was pasted on the final page of the paper's special 10-page section. The talking newspaper became the talk of India.

Unsuspecting readers bolted upright when the advertisement voice activation began. In many parts of the country there were unintended consequences from startled readers.

The police in Delhi received numerous calls, particularly from elderly Indians, who were frightened and suspicious of the talking newspaper.

In Mumbai, the bomb squad was called out when passersby became suspicious of noises coming from discarded newspapers in trash bins. Some readers thought they were hearing the voice of a ghost.

The police commissioner of Mumbai, Sanjeev Dayal, released a statement asking people not be fearful of the new technology.

The 2.2 million copies soon became a sought after collector's item. The executive president of the Times Group, Bhaskar Das, called the advertisement an innovation that could change the way print media is viewed.

Divya Gururaj, managing director of ad agency MediaCom which worked on the talking paper ad, was delighted with the reaction despite the bomb scares and the fact that some didn't work in Delhi because they got wet in the rain.

But as an indication of the ad's success, he said those who bought wet newspapers "were so upset that they called Times of India & asked for the innovation to be repeated the next day."

"We did expect that our innovation would have India talking about it. But it's great to see that we have created a stir the world over," he wrote to ABC News in an email.

Gururaj said the successful launch of the Volkswagen ad indicated "the possibilities are immense... am sure we will see more innovations in this area now."

Already marketing experts are talking about how this new technology can be copied by other brands as well as adapted to other parts of the print media. Headlines, special reports, sports roundups, weather reports could all be adapted as the technology is improved.

Volkswagen India, which is competing in one of the most competitive automobile markets in the world, was pleased with the buzz from the advertising campaign. They said the new technology gave a "human voice" to the company's passion for their product.

Talking Newspaper Was Ad for Volkswagen's New Vento Sedan

Working with the ad agency MediaCom, Volkswagen and The Times of India Group needed almost six months of groundwork to develop the paper-thin device which weighs only an ounce or so and is about the size of an iPod. Once activated, the recorded message has just over two hours of battery life and was manufactured at Volkswagen factories in China.

Marketing firm, DDB India, president Rajiv Sabnis told that the campaign "is one of the most discussed and blogged topics and the most searched subject amongst the online community. So it wasn't just the ad that did the talking but got its readers talking about it too."

The unusual campaign was not without its detractors. One man complained to the Times, ''It took me 15 minutes to find a way to get the thing to shut up. They should have added instructions on how to stop it." Another prominent Indian advertising executive told the paper it was ''intrusive and unwelcome."

''When a man gets up in the morning, he wakes up with the newspaper and this is the only time of peace and solace in the day," he complained.

Technology in Talking Newspaper Differs From Technology in Musical Greeting Cards

Volkswagen and The Times Group declined to say how much the device cost. Gururaj told ABC News, "Our costs are confidential. But yes, the device can be cost-efficient depending on the usage/scale."

Some expert the talking newspaper ads to spread.

"Now a new concept has entered the portfolio of ideas and companies will copy it," states Jessie Paul, CEO of marketing consultancy Paul Writer in a leading Indian business newspaper. "Companies will say, what worked for them will work for me and try and create their own messages.''

Voice recorded books and greeting cards that are activated by page turns are currently available in the United States, but that technology is different than the light-sensitive chips used in the Indian campaign. Also, the system would be too bulky and costly for daily newspapers or magazines use.