Guest post by Oxana Gouliaéva, Voice strategy consultant, co-author of “La révolution des assistants vocaux” (Dunod, 2020)

Voice is opening up new fields of exploration in marketing. In France, the release of Season 3 of the Versailles TV series on Canal+ was supported by an unusual marketing campaign – based on interaction. To help give the character of Louis XIV more depth, and above all to allow the public to converse with him, it was decided to recreate his… voice. This was achieved using voice synthesis technology in a conversational agent – a voicebot. The timbre of the Sun King‘s voice, his sonic imprint, his intonation recreated a personality, stimulating the listener’s interest and emotions. While the same content could have been offered on a classic text chatbot or as a puppet of the monarch, the campaign creators felt that nothing would have equaled the evocative power of his voice. A king by divine right in a secular republic that had inherited a regicidal revolution resonated very strongly with the collective unconscious, instantly setting in motion an entire imaginary world.

When Technology Meets Creativity

In this campaign, designed and developed in three months, it was obviously more a matter of interpreting than reconstructing the Sun King’s voice. An actual reconstruction would have required an X-ray of the vocal cords (because the pitch of a voice is partly determined by their length), or a collection of recorded texts. The latter is what companies developing custom voices for brands need to start with in order to build a custom voice. The creative work was carried out along two routes: the re-creation of the sound imprint of the voice; and the creation of rhetorical and witty quips that the king might have made during his audiences with the public in order to share his opinion on his time, on the series, and on current events.

From Sun King to Voicebot

It was decided to revive Louis in his mature age and several specialists took part in the creative process. A phoniatrist (a physician who specializes in treating the organs involved in speech production – mainly the mouth, throat, vocal cords) explained what the voice imprint of Louis XIV might have sounded like – given his size, weight, and various illnesses. A historian from the Palace of Versailles, who also participated as a consultant in the process, provided information on the king’s life and health. Fortunately, the state of health of a monarch like Louis XIV was recorded on a daily basis, from morning to night, in a notebook on which the creative team could rely. For example, the king, who had had several teeth pulled out using the techniques of the time, had a hole in his palate, which created a sort of second echo chamber within and would have made his voice sound cavernous. As he had difficulty breathing, breaths were added in certain places to bring in personality.

As a voicebot, Louis XIV provided answers to questions. This conversational side was processed using AI and machine learning. As when creating a more typical chatbot, it was necessary to devise a pool of hypothetical questions and answer variants, such as: “What do you think of Donald Trump?” and “Which modern artists inspire you the most?”. More than 300 answers were prepared, along with about 50 different ways of asking each question. The AI recognized the question and associated it with an answer. All the interviews during radio and TV shows were conducted in this way. Before each show, a set of specific questions and answers was prepared: for example, for a literary talk show, the team suggested that the host ask the king about his favorite authors – however, the host formulated his own questions, with his own phrasing.

An Omnichannel Embodiment for a Product or Brand

This approach allowed the creators of the Versailles series to communicate using a variety of media to draw attention to its release: Louis XIV was invited onto radio and TV shows and the campaign received wide media coverage. The king was even active on Twitter, creating a fairly seamless experience and spreading his presence in a dynamic way. To make the voice more ‘visible’ on screen, Louis XIV was symbolically represented by an image of the sun created for the occasion on an iPad display: it moved in real time to show the frequency of the voice. According to the campaign director, the iPad was used for practical reasons, but this could have been done on a smart speaker too.

Today, the voice of Louis XIV is a product in its own right, which can express itself in many applications. Currently, the Palace of Versailles uses the voice in its exhibitions around the world to guide the public, but in the future it could also be found in other products – such as audio guides, to accompany private visits to the Palace or prestige events held there, or even make the Sun King a recurring guest on Canal+ programs.

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