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Don't lay off your copywriters just yet.

published on
October 22, 2019

Copywriting algorithms have been a reality for a few years now. In fact, from the gushing reviews they’ve been receiving lately, you might get the impression that human copywriters are on the verge of obsolescence.

Mel Henson, Head of Creative at AWA Digital, says, “Game-changing new tools mean that computers can now produce convincing, accurate product descriptions that look as if they were penned by a trained copywriter.” The following is taken from one of her examples, a paragraph of algorithm copy for Elmer’s Glue-All:

“It’s always good to have glue around when things get broken, and this 4-oz. liquid white glue from Elmer’s is sure to do the trick. This white glue dries clear, so you don’t have to worry. It is a versatile adhesive working with cardboard, cloth, leather, papers, and wood…”

Demian Farnworth at copyblogger.com goes further: “…when it comes to a computer-generated story, there aren’t any telltale signs that it’s manufactured by a machine. That’s how good this machine-written content is getting.” Here is the machine-written sports story he is referring to:

“Tuesday was a great day for W. Roberts, as the junior pitcher threw a perfect game to carry Virginia to a 2-0 victory over George Washington at Davenport Field.”

A copywriting algorithm developed by Dentsu Aegis Network can even write puns: “Have a suite stay,” says one of its headlines for an all-suite hotel.

Then there’s Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, which not only claims its AI copywriter can write 20,000 lines of copy per second, but that it can pass the Turing Test—the test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to that of a human.

So where does all this leave your team of human writers? Still employed, at least for the foreseeable future. As Mark Riedl at Georgia Institute of Technology points out, algorithms “…can take an image or a few keywords and produce something that looks like a product description.” Using a camera as a product example, he goes on to say, “You don’t just want to say this is a camera and it has these features, you want to say why someone should buy it or why this camera will solve problems that other cameras won’t. That requires a lot more context.”

Brian Bowman, CEO of Consumer Acquisition, agrees: “At least for now, AI can’t do creative, or can’t do it well enough. Templates don’t work well, either. Creative is still best done by humans…”

This isn’t to say algorithms haven’t been a boon for digital advertisers. Algorithms do a fantastic job of mining consumer data to find the most relevant audiences. They are already purchasing the lion’s share of today’s digital advertising. They can even evaluate which ad from a series is working best.

But while algorithms can optimize creative, they can’t create magic. Keith Eadie, VP and GM of Adobe Advertising Cloud, puts it this way: “Ultimately, magic happens in advertising not only when an ad is relevant to an individual—which is primarily driven by data—but also when viewers are rapt and great creative makes an emotional connection.”

How important is that emotional connection? An extensive case study analysis from 2007, done by the World Advertising Research Center, found that emotional ads outsell informational ones by 19 percent.

The way things stand, with the limited information they are given, algorithms can only see people as “online consuming machines.” But human beings are much more than the sum of our online footprints. And you can’t codify emotions like love, friendship, empathy, or desire.

At least not yet.

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