Copywriting in the age of generative AI
It’s probably fair to say that there isn’t a creative industry, medium or discipline that hasn’t been profoundly affected by the sudden-seeming arrival of generative AI. But it is the humble copywriter, in particular, who has perhaps felt this seachange more keenly than most.
Unsurprisingly, the use of generative AI in copywriting has gained traction within the digital landscape practically overnight — a momentous shift that has presented brands with fresh creative avenues to explore, as well as new obstacles to overcome. At Bernadette, we’ve always been invested in taking an strategic approach to written content that services brand identity in a way that’s relatable, inspiring and, above all, human. That being said, the creative potential offered by this new generation of machine tools has been impossible for us to ignore.
As a copywriter (and as a human), I wanted to get an early understanding as to where the possibilities and limitations of the technology currently lie, and to find out just how close we might be to handing over technical copywriting duties to AI on a wholesale basis.
As most people are discovering, Generative AI is good at syntax and sentence construction. It’s able to assess grammatical execution better than most humans in a fraction of a second. And, it’s able to reliably produce consistent, functional copy off the bat which is mostly serviceable (albeit rather formulaic).
Coupled with that, Large Language Models including ChatGPT and Google’s Bard — on the face of it at least — appear to ‘know’ a great deal. Having been trained on increasingly massive data sets, they’re armed with an encyclopaedic memory and are able to transpose this information into coherent, convincingly phrased content in real-time.
But how well informed is ChatGPT really? And does AI really have such a firm grasp on something as nuanced as human language?
Many of my copywriting peers have been testing ChatGPT by prompting it to write simple poetry. So, for a bit fun, I decided to lay down the proverbial gauntlet — by asking it to write me a ‘classical sonnet about copywriters’.
Write me the first two verses of a classical sonnet about how copywriters are able to come up with inspirational writing.
In the realm where words in harmony reside, A craft that wields the power to ignite, Where letters dance, their rhythms amplified, A sonnet of the soul, the copywriter's light.
With ink-stained quill and boundless well of thought, I weave enchanting tales from blank expanse, Unleashing concepts, emotions, concepts sought, In artful prose, I give expression a chance.
Ok. While it’s not exactly Shakespeare, a cursory glance at these two verses might suggest that ChatGPT has neatly answered this prompt down to the letter. That is, until we check for a definitive component of the classic sonnet form. I’m talking of course about — say it with me — iambic pentameter.
Iambic pentameter is a poetic device that uses alternating stressed and unstressed syllables to give the lines a standard signature rhythm — something that ChatGPT neglected to include in this instance. It’s worth mentioning that I picked the AI up on this. ChatGPT over-apologised for the ‘oversight’, revealed that it did in fact understand the rules of iambic pentameter, and promptly resupplied the poem with corrections.
And, when pressed to prove it understood what it was replying with, it even provided a breakdown of the stressed and unstressed syllables in the first quatrain:
In REALMS where WORDS in HAR-mo-NY doth DWELL a CRAFT that WIELDS the POW-er TO ig-NITE Where LET-ters DANCE, their RHYTH-ms CAST a SPELL a SON-net OF the SOUL, the COPY-wri-ter's LIGHT
At this point I was feeling pretty sorry for it, so I didn’t bring up that last line (which is still a bit off if you ask me). But, the point this exercise helps illustrate is that it’s very easy to assume AI is always capable of writing copy that’s somehow grammatically infallible — only for a trained eye to spot inherent weaknesses in its execution.
Nevertheless, these simple interactions also show that there’s a way to push the creative limits of AI language models. With the help of a professionally trained writer at the helm — My name’s Alex, and I’ll be your Captain for today — we’re able to tweak prompts to yield increasingly better results in content generation. And, when it comes to marketing communication, we can begin to steer AI closer to a more recognisable brand tone of voice. This is a practice that’s become all the more essential when we observe how the use of ChatGPT in digital copywriting can impact more practical business scenarios.
For example, when it comes to more technical content like, say, a Tweet, casual assumptions about how AI handles even the simplest prompt can be shown to come with some degree of risk. And, for unwitting brands who aren’t quite on top of their copy optimisation practices, this could mean the difference between getting a product the exposure it needs to survive in the marketplace, or not.
Look at this prompt:
Write me an optimised Tweet promoting ‘ThunderVolt’, a brand new fruity energy drink aimed at the Gen Z demographic.
⚡ Quench your thirst with an electrifying boost! 🍹 Unleash your inner zest with ThunderVolt, the new, mouthwatering energy drink! 🌟 Designed for vibrant Gen Z, this fruity fusion packs flavor and vitality to fuel your unstoppable energy. 💥 Embrace the refreshing sensation and conquer your day with invigoration! 🚀 #StayZesty #GenZPower #ThunderVolt
Character Count: 279
So firstly, I have to admit, I could really chug on a ‘Volt right now. But, effective sales pitch aside, in this instance what we’re really looking for is a short piece of content optimised in format to return a measurable reach on Twitter.
ChatGPT’s solution was to create a Tweet that was as close to Twitter’s standard 280 character limit as possible. But, a trained content strategist will be aware that it’s way too long to qualify as an optimised Tweet. Research has shown that Tweets shorter than 100 characters in length get a 17% higher rate of engagement than longer Tweets, and that retweet engagement is higher when character length is between 71 and 100. In addition, the optimum number of hashtags for Tweets is generally considered to be one or two, rather than three.
So, in this case, the intervention of a Content Manager — followed by some heavy manual editing OR more informed ‘few shot prompting’ — to correct the character length and hashtag count (not to mention the US spelling and the explicit mention of ‘Gen Z’) would have been essential for our Tweet to have had the desired impact. So, is the same true of other comms mediums?
Let’s find out! ...With something like a marketing email.
I asked ChatGTP to produce some email copy based on the following Lord of the Rings themed prompt.
Write me a marketing email… Worthy of Mordor…
Subject: Embrace the Shadows: Unleash Your Maleficent Power with Mordor's Mastery
Dark and formidable souls of the realm, we summon you to immerse yourselves in the unparalleled power of Mordor. From the depths of our infernal domain, we present an opportunity to seize the essence of darkness and commandeer it as your own. Unleash your maleficent potential, for within the heart of Mordor lies a crucible of untamed power, awaiting your fiendish grasp. Through the knowledge bestowed upon you by our malevolent mentors, you shall wield unparalleled sorcery, annihilate adversaries, and shape destinies. Embrace the shadows, transcend mortal limitations, and etch your name in the annals of villainy. Join us, for the hour of reckoning draws near, and together we shall usher in an era of unparalleled malevolence.
So, before we get that localised into Orcish, let’s explore if there are any issues with this copy.
Full disclosure: I asked ChatGTP to point them out.
Give me some reasons why this copy might not be optimised for open rate and conversion. Response:
While the previous copy captures the essence of Mordor's dark allure, it may not be optimized for open rate and conversion due to a few reasons:
— Lack of Personalization: The email does not address the recipient individually, which can make it feel impersonal and decrease the chances of engagement.
— Length and Intensity: The paragraph is quite long and densely packed with dramatic language, which might overwhelm recipients and deter them from reading the entire email.
— Negative Tone: The copy relies heavily on sinister and foreboding language, which might not resonate with a wider audience. It could be perceived as overly intense or off-putting, leading to a lower open rate and conversion.
— Unclear Value Proposition: While it evokes the atmosphere of Mordor, the email does not clearly communicate the specific benefits or value that recipients can gain from engaging with the content or taking the desired action.
It’s not wrong — at least on the first two points. To add to that, the pacing is off, the messaging rambles somewhat and I’d have expected it to land a few more knowing references to the Lord of the Rings franchise.
In terms of copywriting application, I’ve routinely seen ChatGTP demonstrate these kinds of issues, where only refined prompting produces anything like the kind of quality writing we’re looking for. It’s a fact that using generative AI as a writing tool is really only as good as the prompts it’s given. And, even then, achieving the kind of comms-ready content Bernadette prides itself on — and which our clients have come to expect — always requires heavy editing and fine tuning.
So, to conclude, how helpful is AI in supporting copywriters in their role?
Actually, why don’t we let AI answer that one?
Write me a conclusion based on the article above ☝️
In conclusion, the article explores the impact of generative AI on copywriting and the experiences of a copywriter in utilizing this technology.
Ultimately, the author concludes that AI can support copywriters in their role, but it requires careful guidance, editing, and fine-tuning from human professionals to meet the standards expected in the industry. That being said, the collaboration between AI and human expertise can help push creative limits and iteratively improve content generation and brand engagement, leading to more effective communication in various business scenarios.
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Or could I?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ALEX SKEITH | SENIOR COPYWRITER
I’m a seasoned technical brand copywriter and content specialist with expertise in crafting and implementing Tone of Voice. I work with clients to help them refine that voice — and adapt it across multiple comms channels.
This is part of what we're calling iTest - an ongoing content series by real people in Bernadette, documenting experiments and discoveries in the world of AI - focusing on how humans and machines can collaborate, co-create and co-exist in harmony.
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