The Reading Room

Talking papers

Two Indian newspapers are claiming to have notched up a global first by running “talking ads”.

The groundbreaking ads, placed by Volkswagen, appeared on the back pages of special wraparounds published by The Times of India and The Hindu. When the paper is unfolded a light-sensitive speaker chip weighing just a few grams is activated. The reader then starts to hear a Volkswagen message spoken in English that compliments the written advert.

Lutz Kothe, head of marketing at Volkswagen, credited his 14-year-old niece Beatrix Madersbacher for giving him the idea of a ‘talking’ advertisement when he was on a business trip to Munich. “My niece sketched the idea on paper, sealed it and asked me to open it in Mumbai, where I stay,” he said. Back in Mumbai, Mr Kothe shared the idea with his creative and media team to convert the teenager’s idea into an iPod-sized device embedded with a chip, a speaker and batteries to last for 140 minutes. Made at a Volkswagen plant in China, about 2.5 million of these devices were distributed with The Times of India and The Hindu.

The ads caused something of a stir. Police in Delhi received numerous calls from frightened and suspicious people. In Mumbai, the bomb squad was called out when people became suspicious of noises coming from discarded newspapers in trash bins. A flight from Delhi to Mangalore was delayed after passengers complained about the noise caused by stacks of talking ad papers. They were offloaded; Air India is now considering a ban on such papers in future. One reader 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.”

But there were plenty of positive responses too. It was the major water-cooler topic in Indian offices last week, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

“Was wondering if the walls were speaking, when I opened the TOI today. Really unique audio ad by VW!! Das cool!” Vanessa from Chennai wrote on Twitter. PS

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