Will AI Copywriters Replace Humans?
“Automation could replace 40% of jobs in 15 years”.
An unnerving prediction by Fortune Magazine.
But it raises a question: will robots really steal our jobs? The Will Robots Really Steal Our Jobs? report by trend experts PWC, says yes. Millions of them, in almost every sector.
What about copywriting?
You’d think that writing, particularly creative writing, would be safe from AI interference. Afterall, creativity requires humanity. Robots do maths stuff, assemble cars, and in our pseudo-futuristic dreams serve us breakfast with a 16-bit “<Go-od mo-orning>”.
But they don’t write, right?
AI Copywriting isn’t in the wind, it’s here
In fact, here’s an article written for The Guardian by an AI. The task: convince us you come in peace. Honestly, it’s an interesting read. Not just competent, but thought provoking and dryly funny too.
So it seems we’ve truly created thinking robots. Or at the very least writing software able to interpret a brief, form arguments, and be self referential. This doesn’t mean it’s about to go rogue and write an anti-human manifesto.
It does mean we’ve engineered synthetic competition for journalists and copywriters. Which, for most of us, is worrying. It’s hard enough to make it as a writer without copy-churning robots stealing our bandwidth.
Imagine being pitted against an AI copywriter…
Manager: ‘Hey Tim, Timmy-o, take a seat. Look, let’s be real. If you want a future at Content Corp you’re gonna have to deliver like WriteBot’
Copywriter: ‘Star employee. Six months in a row.’
Manager: ‘Yep. WriteBot is hot. Only been here six months too! What a playah!’
Copywriter: ‘I can’t. It’s impossible.’
Manager: ‘You can’t spell impossible without possible. So whadda you say, 1000 blogs this month?
Manager: ‘Great. And remember. Chillax my man, we’re a family. Don’t go burning yourself out’.
How effective is AI copywriting?
This is up for debate, but AI writing services are becoming more numerous. And whilst genuine humanity is off the table, we’ve programmed software to mimic it disturbingly well. Algorithms can write blogs, web copy, ad copy, taglines, you name it. You’ve probably already read some robocopy without realising.
So, how does it stack up against human efforts? It depends how you quantify success. If success is purely measured in clicks, then AI might have the edge. For example, by analysing masses of marketing data, an AI can quickly find the best email subject lines. A study showed it took a human copywriter nearly 50 attempts to beat the open rates of an AI.
However, if success is about forging authentic human connections, then by default, AI fails. Even if something reads well and makes us smile, the moment we discover it was written by an AI we’re weirded out. Doesn’t matter if it’s a tagline, or a white paper. It’s uncanny.
So there’s that. Also, there’s the question of naturally acquired insight.
I think therefore AI
AI copywriters are devoid of real insight. They can emulate it, by assimilating the thoughts of humans and then regurgitating them, but this is different from having insight. An AI isn’t out there, in the world, trying to make ends meet. It isn’t people watching at the park or catching snippets of conversation in a crowded bar. It isn’t fermenting life into intoxicating social commentaries or pondering on the human condition. Therefore, an AI can’t add emotional depth to its writing. Mimicry can only go so far.
Seems odd to even have to write this. It’s so obvious. Yet, no matter how much we soothe ourselves, there’s still a low-boil fear. That one day robots will have believable personalities to rival our own and we’ll be left questioning the nature of humanity.
But fret not. Scientists have an eternity before they can replicate the nuances of the human brain. It’s likely they never will. Our grey matter and the sentience it holds has evolved over millennia. A breathtaking biological system able to render consciousness in a way infinitely superior to components and code.
Despite this, coming back to copywriting, there is an AI worry. It surrounds certain copywriting business models leaning towards automation.
Copy quantity over quality
The Internet is hungry for content.
Not poetically written words. Generic search engine friendly content. Word soup that helps businesses rank better and make more money. Readers might not want this, but some agencies and businesses do. And they want it cheap, in large quantities.
This digital proliferation of words also extends to other forms of copywriting. There are over a billion websites with copy. There are billions of marketing emails sent daily with copy. There are billions of Pay Per Click ads with copy. You get the idea.
The demand for copy is epic, and as with anything that increases in demand, businesses hope to cut the costs of getting it. The reality is that quality copy is energy intensive to produce. It takes time and complex thinking. Words must be carefully chosen for desired impact, sentences meticulously constructed for readability, and everything edited for flow. This puts it in conflict with businesses focused on cost and quantity.
The pinnacle of this quantity model is found in content farms. Here, writers are expected to blaze through unrelenting workloads, without giving much care to word choice, syntax, or readability. In this situation, writing copy warps from a creative endeavour to a mechanical one, ripe for AI. Although ironically, the creativity lost in this grind is actually unrealised profits.
Why? Because copy with soul gives brands soul. It projects their voices loud and clear above the competitive cacophony. It’s what separates memorable from forgettable.
Short term cost-cutting is no substitute for slow burn gains. Neither is using AI.
AI is good business, for misguided companies
Once using an AI copywriting service becomes cheaper than a human one, it will be tempting for businesses to try it. This is understandable, as low-cost, limitless productivity is seductive. AI could even offer salvation to the industry by taking over more exploitative copywriting positions.
This is a hollow win though; a catch 22. It displaces people who need the work. Rather than being filled by AI, these jobs could be made more humane. Not simply because this is moral, but because happy copywriters given the freedom to express themselves are far more valuable than AI.
AI copywriting will always be alien to us, no matter how advanced it gets. It will never offer the idiosyncratic flare of a fantastic copywriter, drawing upon personal experience, empathy, and the melting pot we call life. If we remove the human in writing, we remove the human in reading.
Human connection is what underpins the art of copywriting and with this in mind, AI is doomed to be a pretender. And whilst it might replace some of us, it will only do so in name, not ability.