AI, Copywriting, and Belief in the Human Heart
Remember the "Replicator" on Star Trek?
As a kid watching Star Trek, I was thrilled by this machine that could deliver food on demand.
My childhood sweet tooth was delighted with the immediate gratification I witnessed on the Starship Enterprise. If only I had a replicator, I could have candy bars, chocolate cake, and hot cocoa whenever I wanted. Oh, to be a space traveler living in the world of advanced computers, bubble-light transportation, and holographic people.
I WANTED a replicator.
What seemed so far-fetched in my childhood doesn't seem that much of a stretch today.
Computers with brains made of Artificial Intelligence, "AI," for short, are now a reality.
And people are worried those computers will take over their jobs.
The Merging of Humanity and Technology
A few years ago, a fascinating idea emerged in Dan Brown's book, Origin. The main character asserted that the human race is beginning to meld with technology. In fifty years, the new classification of man will be some hybrid blend of human and robot.
Think about it.
Already, prosthetic limbs and heart devices are controlled by computers. Alexa and Siri
answer our questions and act as our dulcet, virtual assistants. Global Positioning Systems pinpoint our location and tell us where to go, no matter where in the world we are. Google, Amazon, and Netflix all suggest what we might like based on what we purchased in the past.
Try to separate people from their cellphone and you'll witness first-hand the bionic bonding between human and technology that Brown predicted in his book.
So why does the idea of Artificial Intelligence and its role in our daily activities frighten so many people?
Is it because we fear for our jobs? That we will no longer have a purpose? That our very existence on earth will be usurped by a robot?
One look at the past tells us that while human life is changed by technology, it is NOT deposed.
AI Increases Enhances Our Lives
The discovery of electricity and the wiring it into our homes did not eliminate the need for people. . . other than the lamplighters and candlemakers who had to find different work. Today, you won't find any disagreement about whether electricity improved the quality of life even though it created a job shift in a small population.
The creation of the sewing machine, the cotton gin, and the word processor - all innovative technological achievements in their time - enhanced daily living. Those inventions may have decreased the number of hand-sewing seamstresses, cotton-seed-pullers, and manual typewriter manufacturers, but they didn't eliminate the need for people, just shifted the kind of employment offered.
AI has enhanced our lives, not deprived them.
Today, AI and humans happily coexist. Alexa has only helped us, not sabotaged our daily agenda. GPS has directed us, (sweetly "recalculating") without taking over the navigation of our cars. Pacemakers beat mechanically, keeping us alive, a technological failsafe hidden in our anatomy.
Copywriting and Artificial Intelligence
Copywriters, people who write headlines, advertisements, and content for businesses, are abuzz with talk about how Artificial Intelligence will affect their livelihood.
Because new innovations in AI and Natural Language Generation (NLG) are producing astounding results.
What exactly is AI?
AI is produced by mathematical formulas that calculate for specific outcomes. These formulas are called algorithms.
A1, driven by algorithms, creates new combinations of words based on the success of the words and phrases used in the past.
Processing information held in massive data banks with thousands of phrases, words, and images, AI compares successful marketing campaigns with campaigns that bombed. It then spits out a list of hundreds of possible phrases, scoring each one for effectiveness.
By comparing the effectiveness rating of phrases, AI can determine which ads will be successful.
And it can do this with speed.
The Power of Persado
The most notable of the AI software in the field of copywriting is Persado.
Persado is reinventing digital marketing creativity by applying mathematical certainty to the words used in marketing communications.
Chase Bank is just one of hundreds of big- name companies who have signed deals with Persado to generate marketing campaigns.
Because the copy written by Persado had more click-throughs - sometimes twice as many - as the text composed by humans.
Other big-name companies, Dell, Staples, Audible, Williams-Sonoma, Comcast, Microsoft, Expedia, and American Express, just to name a few, have contracted with Persado believing their marketing will be more successful.
Persado works by sorting language into four categories: narrative, emotion, description, and functional language. Functional language includes Calls To Action, formatting, and word positioning.
Then Persado and its AI brain, takes words, phrases, and images that have been used before (in 25 languages) and rates their effectiveness, tags them, and organizes them in that massive databank before spitting out rapid-fire lists. New ad possibilities, proven to be effective, are generated rapidly.
And Persado boasts that the average click-through lift using its generated material is 68%.
I'm a great brainstormer and a quirky creative, but there is no way I could match the speed, efficiency, and proven results of this AI program in the computer. As Mark Duffy notes in Code Eats Copy for Breakfast, AI can create ten campaign strategies before a human writes even one, and it can produce hundreds of versions and variations.
That's where the fear comes in.
Because it's not just the words that Persado can manipulate. Persado can be assigned an emotion from a big wheel.of feeling . . .(think "Let's Make a Deal" with emotion-words listed instead of dollars.) Once assigned a sentiment, Persado can pull out a thousand words that might evoke that emotion.
More AI Machines with Power Are Popping Up
Persado is just one of a growing field of brainy machines.
Another interesting AI innovation is a poster that will rewrite its message to appeal to the customers who are watching. A "smart poster," if you will, created by Posterscape, M&C Saatchi, and Clear Channel.
This Digital Out of Home (DOOH) technology is equipped with a camera. It evaluates the expressions of the people watching and adjusts images, words, and fonts for optimal appeal, almost instantly. It writes and re-writes itself - in real time - based on what works.
Yep. AI is good at what it does.
Should copywriters be shaking in their boots?
AI can make us better at what we do, but it can't replace the creativity of the human mind, the ability to build relationships with clients, or the vast spectrum of human experiences.
It will help us compile data. It will help us target customers with personal, relevant content. It can even tell us which words, attitudes, and visual images will be most effective.
That will be useful information because all copywriters want to craft successful, profitable ads.
As Paul Roetzer, the Founder and CEO of Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute, says in his interview with Ann Handley, "machines take over the optimizing, the analyzing, the reporting, the boring, the drudge, and the data. And it means robots become our partners, helping us be sharper, smarter, better decision-makers."
Using the data AI generates is a good thing for copywriters.
It's a good thing provided you're not a trouble-making, sower-of-discontent in the workplace.
The advantage of computers is that - even with all their fancy algorithms - computers never complain. They never get tired. They never take vacation or sick days. They don't scuffle with other employees or act like prima donnas. They don't require withholding taxes, 401 plans, or paid leave. And they work non-stop without bathroom breaks or long lunches.
But if you're a great employee who works hard and gets along with your colleagues, you won't be replaced by AI.
What AI Can't Do
"The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers - creative and holistic 'right-brain' thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't," suggests Daniel Pink.
That spark of inspiration. That crazy new idea. That weird connection of idea, experience, and emotion comes from the human mind.
AI can't create good content from scratch. It can't be creative on its own.
I'm no computer expert. Quite the opposite. I work on the creative, non-linear side of the brain. I prefer to wander in circles, read between the lines, and avoid straight-forward formulas. I believe that mortals with brain power will always control machines. I am a holdout for the honeypot of human emotions and the ability to move people with heartfelt stories told in new ways.
So it makes me think. . .
If AI is generating text based on what's gone before, it is creating powerful - but processed - text. It's great to use the words that have generated the most response in previous campaigns, but how long will advertising feel fresh without the new creative input of human-designed material?
Eventually, won't advertisements feel canned and predictable?
It's a human brain that decides to put two strange and opposing concepts together to present a new idea. Like elephants and angels. Or the roaring ocean and the red tip of a matchstick. (I didn't say these were good ideas, just creative ones that may lead to somewhere off the beaten path.)
Like the Star Trek Replicator, AI can only produce output from what's been programmed into it.
Isn't there a universe of new ideas as yet unproven, that might flash like fire?
And what about elements of higher level, sophisticated thought and figurative language? AI can't (yet) replicate satire, metaphor, and nuances of humor.
Until AI can think and feel like a human, there's nothing to worry about.
Human Emotion Has to Be Worth Something
Humans can do what machines can't. We share experiences and real emotion - not fake emotion pulled off a spinning wheel of words. A computer will never experience hilarity, drunkenness, or love. It won't go biking, hiking, fishing, swimming, or running. It won't understand rites of passage like a first shave, ear-piercing, friendship, marriage, birth, divorce, death - all which might be useful in a campaign. It can't have relationships with clients and build business on something other than dollars.
Unlike my AI counterpart, I feel JOY when my strange, wonderful, wonky brain generates a slogan that sends sales skyrocketing.
I may become one of the relics of a past occupation, like bookbinders who bound vellum-paged books with real leather. Like salesmen for whale-oil. Like phone booth manufacturers and rotary-dial pay-phone producers.
But I'll go out with a big smile and a story on my lips, feeling every word in the message I've crafted. Believing that my heart is an important part of communicating.
I'll use AI, but I won't fear the Replicator, the Robot, or the machine looming in my future.
Because the ability to experience emotion will always make us the masters of machines, no matter how smart they are. We will always be the programmers and the input-ers, the feelers and the do-ers, the force of the future, not its victims.