Stephen King said, ‘writing is telepathy’: a thought travelling from one mind to another via the medium of paper.
But recently I’ve been wondering, what if that thought didn’t originate from a human? What if it was brought into being in the mind of an Artificial Intelligence? Would that be a threat to human writers – or an opportunity?
A tale of truths
Most of us read thousands of words a day – from ads to novels, to blogs and WhatsApps – and all of these words need writing. This isn’t going to change. But, if you were to ask someone about their opinion on Artificial Intelligence taking over jobs, they’d generally have one of several reactions.
The first is outright denial: “How could AI possibly take over when ‘self-driving Teslas are mounting curbs and rear-ending Toyotas all over California.”
The second is a more socialistic shunning: “Well, if we replace jobs with AI without making new jobs and retraining people, then we’re leaving them and their families out to dry.”
The third is a capitalistic acceptance: “Yep, machines have been replacing people’s jobs at scale since the industrial revolution.”
And finally, the outright utopian: “Hopefully one day we can build a society in which none of us will need to work.”
When it comes to the idea of AI taking over the jobs of copywriters – many of my fellow writers will likely fall into the first of the above reactions (and for good reason). Whereas I myself have flitted between a few.
Recently, however, I’ve noticed a number of ads, predominantly on social media, promoting one specific AI–powered copywriting application that is capable of writing “all the copy you could possibly need”.
These claims got me questioning the tool’s capability, and through investigating, I had to face up to the possible reality of an AI-driven copywriting market in the not-so-distant future – and what I found left me feeling strangely hopeful.
Just take a quick moment to read this passage from the 2nd section of Franz Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis:
Okay, I lied. That paragraph was written by an AI after it read the first section of The Metamorphosis.
“Holy sh*t I’m screwed… I’m a writer, this machine is already so convincing, and technology is only going to get exponentially better!” – this was more or less my initial reaction.
But the reality is that the above passage is the very limit of this tool’s capability. This kind of ‘narrow’ AI is able to mimic tone and continue on with a basic style and narrative, but it can by no means write a novel (not a good one at least). Something like that would require a much more ‘general’ intelligence.
This was demonstrated in the first ever Sci-Fi Novel written by an AI:
This novel, by OpenAI’s text generator, is called Beautiful Incoherence, a name which unfortunately appears only to be half true.
But what about copywriting?
JPMorgan tested AI copywriting out in some real-world marketing. It used an AI writing tool to tweak email headers and subject lines and even display ads – replacing words or removing them entirely and writing new sentences.
Not only did JPMorgan send these emails to prospective borrowers, it ran them alongside a similar set of emails that were written by human copywriters.
The result? the AI outperformed human writers across the board: generating 47 weekly applications for credit compared with only 25 for the humans.
I’ll start packing my things, I guess.
But what if...
It is important to highlight that these AI tools aren’t actually originating content. Even the AI tools that wrote the longer form copy that JPMorgan used in the above test are only regurgitating similar information they have seen elsewhere.
Fundamentally, every AI must be ‘trained’ on certain content for it to function as intended, and even then, their intelligence only extends so far.
This narrowness is one of the core limitations.
But let’s, for argument’s sake, assume that they will; that in our lifetimes, AI writing tools will be able to create reams of original, wonderful content on any subject. And all any marketer would have to do is punch in their target market, audience, the subject of whatever they’re promoting, and maybe some pain points for good measure. Then, BAM, you’d instantly have twenty serviceable LinkedIn posts, emails, or blogs – whatever you want.
The Photoshop Conundrum
Did Photoshop kill the designer or did it empower them? It seems to me that a more likely scenario for the copywriter is one that we have seen play out for our art director colleagues – that the proliferation of new technology will change our role for the better.
New AI tools automate processes that art directors would once have had to work through manually – enhancing both the scope and the output of what they can now do project-by-project.
These writing tools will likely act in a similar manner, doing a huge chunk of the lower value, run-rate stuff for writers like me – the copy that needs creating once all the clever meaning has been developed.
Writing 20 LinkedIn posts or emails? Well, I don’t mind AI doing this for me (I’ll definitely have to edit them though).
But in the same way a digital tool can’t make the designer, an AI tool won’t make the copywriter.
Why I'm not scared
Think of a striking marketing campaign, the first one that comes to mind (I’ll do it too).
Got one? Is it a specific creative you remember most? A hilarious bit in a podcast break? Maybe it was a concept you found particularly clever, or one that profoundly impacted you?
The campaign that bobbed to the surface for me was Pepsi’s hidden logo: ‘proof’ that it goes better with burgers. It is a great example of a clear message working effortlessly with a clever creative concept
So why does it work?
There’s a lot of marketing jargon we could unpack here, but ultimately it works because it’s human.
It’s human in its familiarity and in the memories it evokes with the close-ups of scrunched up takeaway bags. It’s human in its humour and in its clever visualisation of the Pepsi logo. It’s bound together with a simple, clear message crafted with the human ‘meaning’ that their copywriters were tasked with championing: Pepsi might not be on the menu, but it goes better.
If AI does anything for the copywriter, it will empower us to take a step back from the millstone and grow to become a director of the meaning behind the copy. Something that is already fundamental to great writing.
The sad truth is that it’s possible there will be fewer opportunities for content writers if small businesses take up AI writing tools for the cost benefit. But this is something we won’t know until it happens.
For many copywriters, AI will enable them to work both more strategically, delivering more sophisticated campaigns in shorter timeframes; and more creatively – being able to invest time in developing an in-depth understanding of both the industry and the humans their copy is telepathizing to.
Anyway. I’m off to write twenty staggeringly tailored and insightful ABM emails.
About the Author
Matt writes copy that draws on a deep understanding of target audience and how people engage with content – entertaining, educating, elevating brands and, ultimately, selling. Experienced in writing for broad markets including tech, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Matt’s focus is on global B2B technology.