What can AI teach us about copywriting?

Matthew Kenney

Laureate Ltd.

The copywriting trade is getting busy. 

There’s the usual cohort of human beings, bringing their own blends of knowledge and experience. Each with strengths and passions. Each with different takes on the same tasks. Competitors and colleagues, united by the writing profession.

But there is a new kid in town. A competitor, but not a colleague. A writer like no other. 

Jasper is one of a new breed of AI language modellers. Its creative writing process differs greatly from ours. Ingesting most of the written material that has ever existed, Jasper has learned to understand language patterns and linguistic reasoning. It’s learned to write, and feels bullish about its ability to write well for a human audience.

Jasper’s intelligence is artificial, and like AstroTurf, it doesn’t need water or sunlight. It won’t get muddy when it rains and doesn’t need mowing, come to think of it. But its ability to consider big data and squeeze a universe of knowledge into 500 words on the pros and cons of avocado soap should make us stop and think. Maybe even panic just a little?

In December 2022, OpenAI released a throttled back version of a natural language chatbot called ChatGPT. When asked to describe itself, it responded: “ChatGPT is a chatbot that uses a large language model called GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) to generate human-like responses to user inputs. It is trained on a vast amount of data and can generate text that is coherent and natural sounding.”

Upon launching, ChatGPT generated a flash-mob of curious beta testers. A million users signed up in the first seven days. To put that into context, Twitter took 10 months to build its first million users. Facebook: two whole years.

This is where things become a little more uncomfortable. Although still in its nascency, investors value Jasper, which is based on the OpenAI GPT-3 language model, at over $1.5 billion USD. That’s the figure investors put on startups with broad market disruption potential. 

Customer service bots are one thing, but Jasper also sells blog posts, SEO, articles, and even books. Subscription plans start at $29 USD / month, but their ‘Boss Mode’ plan includes all features for just over twice that amount. According to their website, Jasper has already written over 30 books for ‘authors’ who went from idea to Amazon debut within a week. They even mention HarperCollins as a client. 

For Amazon, the book forest looks set to get bigger, fast.

Making room for AI in copywriting and the creative arts must lead us to ask some fundamental questions about the human condition. How individual are we? What role does emotion play in decision-making? What sustains us and drives us to behave the way we do? 

Can the languages we have perfected throughout our existence and used so beautifully by writers like Vergil, van Goethe, Shakespeare, Shelley, Brontë, Tennyson, Tolkien, Woolfe, Wilde, and the rest, be learned, understood, and mastered (with a perfect grammar score) by a silicon chip? Didn’t we create computers to do menial and mundane tasks like tax returns? 

If we allow machines to write copy because it’s more efficient, why not replace the consumer too? How long will it be until corporations consider consumer behaviour an optimisation problem? Why put so much effort into persuading a mercurial, capricious, hormonal human being to buy something, when an artificial buyer could make an instant and unemotional purchase decision inside of a nanosecond?

The customer journey would be instantaneous. A quantum leap in eliminating trade friction. A marketer’s dream. AI on the buy side would be so slick at probabilistic reasoning, it could decide to buy or reject even before receiving the pitch. Think of the savings on the sales and marketing budget. The virtual CEO could buy a holiday home in Aruba, if it was partial to sentimental and egotistic vices – which, of course, it wouldn’t be.

Isn’t this all too ‘1984’, even for this age of technological and societal change?

Is it possible that when we humans answer the questions above, we might find comfort in imperfection? A sense of belonging in fallibility? Businesses will continue to choose human copywriters for the value-adding discovery calls and the editing process that reassures both sides that they are building something unique and powerful, won’t they?

That is what we’re doing. We create something special because we haven’t considered every permutation. Our writing has meaning because it has our personalities encoded in every sentence. If you mix every colour in the paint set, what you end up with is brown. A comprehensive, representative, expertly considered, dull, lifeless brown. 

Cherry-picking has its place.

However, AI should teach us an important lesson about our writing: accuracy, richness, and context matters. To make sure we keep these front and centre (and your writing will always be better for it), copywriters must flex their research muscle. 

‘Knowing one’s onions’ can be a colossal advantage for a copywriter. But knowing how to ‘learn one’s onions’ is paramount. For writing thought leadership material, revealing new onions is the name of the game. For long form content of all varieties, accurately represented onions make the soup.

Conducting good research gathers valuable data that can inform your copywriting and create content that resonates with your client’s audience. Here are some market research techniques to consider that could improve the quality of your research before putting pen to page, or finger to keyboard:

  • A survey is a simple and effective way to gather data. We can use survey tools like Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, or Typeform to create and distribute them to relevant people. Create clear and concise questions that apply to your research goals and won’t put participants off completing them.
  • Interviews: We can conduct these in person, over the phone, or via video conferencing. They allow us to dig deeper into specific topics and get a more detailed understanding of your target audience. Consider interviewing customers, industry experts, or other stakeholders to gather unique insights. People love talking about themselves and having some unique quotes and references in your material can be a powerful thing.
  • Focus groups: Bring together a small group of people to discuss a specific topic or product. These discussions can provide valuable insights into consumer behaviour and attitudes. Is your client attending a trade show or conference relevant to your project? This could be an opportunity for you and your client to work together on improving brand messaging.
  • Competitive analysis: Conducting a competitive analysis allows you to see how your client’s products or services compare to those of their competitors. You can gather data on things like pricing, feature sets, and marketing strategies, to understand the competitive landscape and use that insight in your copywriting. If your client has a marketing department, they may have already done this. If so, ask them for a copy.
  • Customer personas: These are fictional representations of your client’s target audience. By creating detailed customer personas (or studying your client’s existing efforts), you can get a better understanding of your target audience’s needs, goals, and behaviours.
  • A/B testing: A/B testing involves creating two versions of a webpage or marketing campaign and comparing their performance. This can help you understand which elements are most effective at driving conversions. Mail marketing suites like HubSpot make it easy to drive traffic to two or more different landing pages, as well as alternating subject lines, etc.
  • User testing: This involves recruiting a small group of people to use a product or service and provide feedback. This can help you identify any usability issues and gather valuable insights into how people are interacting with the product. Think ‘Gogglebox’ for content marketers.

The threat AI poses to the copywriter is present, but questionable. There are examples where cold automation has failed to displace a more human experience. Coffee shops still employ baristas. Airlines still employ pilots. Rail companies still employ drivers. 

But should art and creativity be a human-only domain? Inwardly, the encroachment of AI on the creative arts should give us pause for deep thought. Outwardly, perhaps new laws are required to separate artists and writers from their digital counterparts. Should the reader know that not only did the named author not write the book they are reading; nobody did?

Deeper implications aside, copywriters should take heed of AI’s ace card. Excellent research is a vital part of the copywriting process. By using a variety of techniques, copywriters can gather valuable data that will inform their writing and help them create content that resonates with target audiences. AI could be a valuable ally here. The difference is, humans can add something that machines can’t: heart and soul.

Originally published on

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

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