Copywriters, do you think machines are coming for your job? Wait. Don't answer that.

Matt Geary in Content marketing on 20th of Dec 2018
Will machines replace copywriters?

Will machines replace copywriters?

AI is swooping in on a huge range of written content, and if human copywriters were paying attention, their jaws would hit the floor at just how fast the creative industry is becoming automated. In fact, when it comes to optimized headlines and short-form marketing copy, AI might already be doing it better.

But will robots actually be capable of creative work? And will they replace copywriters altogether?

To answer these questions, it’s useful to understand more about the AI platforms that already have the capability of writing copy today.

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How machines are writing copy: Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is the catch-all term that enables machines to process, understand, create, and respond to language. It’s broken down into two major elements: Natural Language Understanding (NLU) and Natural Language Generation (NLG). NLU and NLG are what make machine-generated copy feel and sound human.

Natural Language Understanding

Where regular language processing just looks at sentence structure, NLU attempts to comprehend the pragmatic meaning of language. Natural writing and speech are sprinkled with nuances, references, idioms, expression, context, colloquialisms, and more — NLU is designed to navigate these complex human expressions.

Take these two statements:

1. “We need to chat, baby!”

2. “We need to chat, babe….”

If you received one of these statements in a text, you would understand the meaning behind it intuitively. Number 2 doesn’t sound like good news.

The context is instantly apparent to a human. To a machine, maybe not so much. NLU is working to help AI comprehend and create these nuances in language.

Natural Language Generation

NLG is the process that helps a machine turn structured data into text — you can see it in action in AI-powered voice applications like Google’s Home Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. These applications are impressive, but in a nutshell, are essentially uploading and displaying data within a set template.

In the upcoming years, NLG is set to become much more advanced than today’s consumer products. Teams are currently developing AI that can identify the focus and intent of content, and write it in the same way humans do (Persado). Though for complex copy, it isn’t totally autonomous yet.

Humans still need to watch over any copy-generating AI to ensure the NLG algorithm hasn’t generated anything nonsensical.

AI is writing high-performing copy right now

Copywriters love to romanticize their jobs as an art, rather than a science. In reality, marketing copy is rarely about saying something new or creative — writing short copy is so formulaic that right now, NLG software can easily analyze and reproduce copy that generates the best engagement.

One of advertising’s most well-known copywriters, David Oglivy famously said: “Do not worship at the altar of creativity.” And truly, good copywriters never have. They know their audience responds best to familiar emotional triggers.

In the near future, autonomous marketing products are set to take this even further with AI-generated copy that sits neatly within fully fledged customer journeys. It’s going to be a massive reality check for copywriters worldwide.

So… will machines really replace copywriters?

Not completely — the copywriter of the future will have a job. It just won’t be the same as the one you know today.

With autonomous marketing poised to reinvent the creative landscape, the copywriters of the future will likely be working in multiple capacities, such as:

  • Sense-checking whatever AI algorithms are producing, and choosing the best variations
  • Being high-level creatives with authority on brand voice and style
  • Creating nuanced, long-form content

The last one is a doozy. While NLG tools excel at writing content with clear criterion and simple objectives, they simply can’t produce interesting long-form content. For now, only humans possess native-level language mastery that’s required to create truly interesting content.

Complex ideas, subtleties, humor, and nuanced discussion just aren’t within the capabilities of AI right now. Keep your ears peeled — machines will replace copywriters who cling to outdated methods and traditional values.

Tomorrow’s copywriter

Despite the predictions, human copywriters will be at an advantage in the future. Aided by AI, tomorrow’s copywriter may serve as a creative pilot — navigating topics and telling “creative” machines when to change gears.

By allowing AI to take the weight of repetitive and predictable content, copywriters will have more time to focus on what really makes them valuable: telling wonderful, engaging stories and nailing brand voices.

The wave of AI-powered autonomous marketing is coming, and the surf’s up for everyone who’s ready.

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