The art of copywriting is as old as advertising itself, made great by industry legends like David Ogilvy and Bill Bernbach. But as marketers begin turning toward tools that automate copy, is the craft in danger?
Over the past few years, brands have been toying with different ways AI can double as a wordsmith. While these experiments have proven that AI’s ability to “learn” mass amounts of information give it a unique advantage when it comes to churning out copy, it’s also become increasingly clear that there’s only so much the technology can provide from a creative perspective.
Take Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, which trained IBM Watson to spit out copy for Toyota Mirai ads in 2017 as part of a campaign geared toward tech and science enthusiasts. While Watson was eventually able to unearth some interesting insights and string together clever lines of copy, getting there was a laborious process that involved months of training.
Last year, Alibaba’s digital marketing arm unveiled an AI-powered copywriting tool for brands to leverage on its ecommerce sites. Alibaba claimed the tool is used nearly a million times per day, but also acknowledged that “human creativity is the cornerstone for the machine.”
Most recently, JPMorgan Chase signed a five-year deal with Persado, a 7-year-old company that uses AI to send tailored copy to consumers based on the kinds of messaging they’ve reacted to or shown a preference for in the past. JPMorgan plans to use the company’s technology for direct-response emails, display ads and the like.
Air Canada, whose email marketing open rates increased 48% during a trial with Persado’s technology, has also seen success. Yuval Efrati, Persado’s chief customer officer, said its platform works because it takes the “guesswork” out of copywriting.
The firm provides a distinct and helpful tool to marketers rife with customer data, but it’s not rooted in creativity. After all, without data, Persado’s offering would be rendered useless.
It’s for this reason that human copywriters shouldn’t be worried—at least not yet. Jason Sperling, svp and chief of creative development at agency RPA, said there’s a huge gap between the “minimal creativity” needed to write copy for a banner ad and what it takes to come up with an idea for a brand campaign.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to have a robot determining what a Super Bowl commercial is,” he said. “Creativity is not necessarily programmable or easily decipherable.”
He pointed to a series of satirical ads created by David Miami for Burger King that mocked the very concept of AI-written copy. While the campaign was a joke (albeit at AI’s expense), it symbolized a sentiment that many creatives in the industry share: some tasks are better suited for humans.
“People can associate and amalgamate very disparate thoughts and feelings and stories,” Sperling said. “Would AI ever be smart enough to actually make fun of itself?”
Kathryn Webb, AI practice lead at AKQA, said copywriters shouldn’t view AI as a threat but rather a “member of the creative team” that can provide a diverse viewpoint and maybe even take on some of the more humdrum work that’s not exactly exciting or challenging.
“I think it actually frees up copywriters to tackle more difficult copywriting tasks,” said Webb. She continued, saying that human-driven copywriting may even increasingly become a “premium product” that marketers seek out for higher-level tasks.
It’s a viewpoint shared by Alexandre Naressi, head of R&D at Accenture Interactive, who said that only humans have the ability to react to “sudden unexpected events.” Case in point: It was a person who, upon realizing that there was a power outage at Super Bowl XLVII, helmed Oreo’s successful “dunk in the dark” tweet.
“Human copywriters will always be more spontaneous,” Naressi said. “They inherently have deeper cultural [and] emotional impact and relevance.”
It’s hard to predict where AI will be one, five or even 10 years from now, but it seems as though copywriters have nothing to worry about for the time being. While AI might be infringing on their domain, it simply doesn’t have the inherent creative chops to truly make a case for itself.
“We’re all looking at the future and wondering what’s next and how [it] will affect our jobs,” said Sperling. “But I don’t necessarily see AI becoming idea factories in the short term.”