Originally published on October 24, 2016
I’ve been seeing more and more articles about Artificial Intelligence technology that promises to churn out marketing copywriting indistinguishable from a human copywriter.
One company, Automated Insights, has built a “natural language generation platform that lets you produce human-sounding narratives from data.” Their algorithms can produce stories, reports, and articles that convey basic facts and a sequence of events. Stock market updates, sports recaps. The kind of stuff dads read while sitting on the john.
Truthfully, the automated writing isn’t that bad. A little flat, maybe, but the kind of content that would get a solid B+ in a Journalism 101 class.
Earlier this year, a company called Persado secured a $30M investment for their automated copywriting platform. Their specialty is “cognitive content” that’s scientifically primed (based on impossibly huge amounts of testing and tweaking) to get readers to engage.
Oh yeah, and it’s really, really good. Like, scary good. In fact, Persado claims their technology “outperforms man-made messages 100%* of the time.”
Let me repeat that.
A machine’s copywriting efforts, which is an amalgamation culled from a dizzying vortex of raw data, has beaten the efforts of human copywriters 100 times out of 100.
This kind of result would send any sane copywriter spinning for the nearest bar. If machines can beat us literally EVERY SINGLE TIME, then why even bother trying? Might as well hang up our copywriter hats and eke out a living editing memoirs on Fiverr.
However, putting aside the ethical issues that arise when machines replace journalists, I actually think this new revolution is great news for copywriters.
Here’s a secret: I hate writing subject lines. I also hate writing social posts. This confession might cost me some freelance jobs in the future. But I feel like it’s important to be realistic about the work we do and do not want to do as copywriters.
So I don’t really care if a machine takes over all the subject lines in the entire world. I’d love to outsource those nuts and bolts of marketing copywriting so I can have more time to focus on the type of writing I enjoy. I only write subject lines now because it’s necessary to point readers toward what copywriters do best: Telling good stories.
Humans are natural storytellers. We’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. Stories have always surrounded us; we breath them in like we breath oxygen. Copywriting may not be the oldest profession, but we can still trace our lineage back to the first caveman to scrawl on a cave wall or recap the day’s hunt by the glow of the fire.
Stories are at the heart of all effective copywriting. And by effective, I don’t mean “producing the most open rates” or “earning the highest organic search results.” Those metrics are mere reflections of the times.
Copywriting is effective when it tells a story that knocks the wind out of you. Pounds at your temples. Kicks you in the gut. Effective copywriters tell stories that are unexpected, profound, bittersweet, even paradoxical. (Even when these stories are grounded firmly in a business’ brand voice and financial goals.)
Stories that break your heart into a thousand slivers.
These are the stories that we aspire to as copywriters.
These are the stories that machines, despite all the testing and optimization and data gathering, will never create. Because machines don’t experience the world as we do. They don’t feel emotions in the same way.
The same element that makes machines mind-blowingly powerful — their inescapable, claustrophobic foundation of logic — is the same element that handicaps them from truly emulating human stories: You can’t teach a machine to mimic the utter illogic of love or fear or guilt or lust.
Artificial Intelligence stories may be accurate. They may be well organized. They may even be humorous.
But they’ll never be human.