What does the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) mean for the creative industry? Our Chief Copywriter travels back from the future to save humanity.
I was treated to a talk at last year’s Copy Cabana from Glenn Sturgess and Peter Stephen of OgilvyOne Business, on the topic of AI and copywriting. I touched on it briefly in my recap, but this is a topic to which I, and many others, keep returning.
Are the machines coming for your job? Basically, yes. They are, and it’s going to happen a lot sooner than you think. Even you silver foxes who are banking on being able to stretch things out to retirement are in for a rude awakening.
The technology is already here. Look at Persado, a platform which is capable of churning out 100+ headlines, each tailored to a specific business need, before a flesh-and-blood copywriter has put the kettle on and summoned the muse.
That last point wasn’t even a stab at comedy. Algorithm-driven content resonates with the besuited bean-counters who call the shots in ways us artsy-fartsy types simply do not. Suits trust data, not the stirrings of the soul, and that alone spells death for the creative industry as we know it.
Not convinced? Here’s three more reasons AI will replace copywriters in the next 5 to 10 years…
Machines learn, and don’t forget
My favourite thing about copywriting agency-side is the scope of clients we work with. There’s always something new on the horizon, and I like to think I’m an open-minded dude who can turn his hand to most subjects.
Compared to even a modest AI, though, I’m a dim-witted hick who’s still iffy on how to use a semicolon.
With AI-driven copywriting, you can rebrand your entire organisation, return years later for the next refresh, and the machine will still remember every last nuance of your branding, tone, and what precise emotions you want to instil in your audience.
Machines don’t talk back
I’ve been writing since I was old enough to stab my mum’s wallpaper with a crayon. So guess what! I know a thing or two about crafting something that reads well!
That doesn’t always sit well within a business process that sometimes produces multiple sources of contradictory feedback, all of which damages the consistency (and quality) of the finished copy. Whatever, Carol, it’s your birthday card.
An AI has no ego, impatience, or artistic integrity. Just tell it what you want, and that’s precisely what you’ll get… although the same might be said of the monkey’s paw from the old legend.
Machines are cheaper
If you’re still not totally sure I’m right, this one is game over. Using off-the-shelf software is always going to be cheaper than hiring a human with at least one mouth to feed.
When the end result is the same, if not better than what a human could produce, let’s see how long our beloved craft lasts when faced with the almighty bottom line.
Copywriting in a post-Skynet world
So why am I not worried about all this? Why am I not marching on the House of Lords, Byron-like, to mount an impassioned defence of neo-Luddism?
Well, it’s a combination of historical literacy, and realism when it comes to the human condition, really. We are tool-using mammals. From the moment one monkey picked up a rock to crack his coconut open, we began to evolve alongside our tools.
That’s the key. Copywriters who try to cling to outdated methods and values are going to be swept away by the march of history. Those who work with AIs and their developers aren’t just going to have an easier time. They’re going to help shape the future of our industry for generations.
Now, I can’t predict the future. If I could, I’ve have invested in Bitcoin back in 2007 instead of beer. But let me go out on a limb and explore how our roles could change within the next decade.
A slice of reality, this one. Most copywriters bemoaning the AI takeover are, in fact, pining for a craft which never existed.
Marketing copy is only very rarely about saying something new. People have trouble processing ‘new,’ and instead respond much better to simple emotional button-pushing. However we like to romanticise what we do, we’re basically just manipulating other monkeys into consuming products.
With such a relatively narrow window of stimuli to produce, the copywriter of the future might be most gainfully employed overseeing an AI’s output. We’d serve as the final sense-check on whatever the algorithm produces, working with it to refine the perfect messaging.
Could an AI write a car advert about not-a-car?
Focusing on the long game
Alternatively, the relentless march of AI might not go as fast as we predict. Algorithms are nailing headlines right now, which are more or less formulaic even in human hands. The rise of clickbait showed us this much.
What about longer-form content? Machines have yet to pinpoint things like narrative, poetry, suspense, and tension. In this scenario, all the fiddly agonising over those 8-12 critical words which make up a headline or tweet can be safely delegated to the AI.
Meanwhile, we can focus our attentions on telling wonderful, engaging stories, from one human to another. We can take our fellow mammals on brilliant journeys of hope and compassion, across the full spectrum of emotion.
Could an AI speak to the spirit like this?
I’m always wary of the idea of ‘best practice.’ It implies one ‘correct’ way of doing things, set in stone against all change. That’s just not how the creative industry works.
I mentioned clickbait above, and it’s a good example here as well. There was a time when it worked, but it didn’t take people long to react and start avoiding any title resembling, ‘Dentists hate this single mum’s $10k per year invention!’
Handing content creation over to a robot risks locking us into a new status quo, with the computer unable to figure out why the techniques of last year aren’t still working, at least not without a lengthy reporting cycle.
Tomorrow’s copywriter might serve as a tastemaker, keeping their ear to the ground of digital culture and letting the AI know when to change approaches when (or ideally before) the current ones become old hat.
Would an AI have the heart to do this?
Fusing with the singularity
Of course, all of this might not be needed. After all, there’s not much call for marketing when the AI has taught us how to upload our consciousness into an immortal metal shell.
In this scenario, we replace the human race with a transhumanist vision of silicon perfection and finally explore the stars together, free from the petty desires of the flesh, as one godlike gestalt being of luminous intellect.
…Actually, this one might take closer to 20 years unless Elon Musk really gets his skates on.
Content with a human touch from Sookio
Despite all this, the Dawn of the Machines isn’t quite upon us. For at least the next few years, you’ll need to rely on expert copywriters with a very human flair for connecting with audiences.
Talk to Sookio about kicking off your next digital project with confidence. Until then…
Hasta la vista, baby.