Copywriting by computer: Wave of the future? … or wild-ass pipe dream?

persado logoIn recent years, computers have upended many a job category.  And they include quite a few positions involving “language” – from foreign language translators to medical transcriptionists.

And now, it looks like copywriting itself may be the next domino to fall.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal published a story about Persado, a company which has developed a software algorithm that enables it to write copy without the human element.

David Atlas, the company’s chief marketing officer, refers to it as “algorithmic copywriting.”  The process creates sentences with a maximum length of 600 characters that are used for e-mail subject lines and other short persuasive copy.

Persado builds the copy by sending thousands of different e-mail subject lines to the e-databases of its clients, which include large retailers and financial services firms such as Overstock.com, AMEX and Neiman Marcus.  Response rates are measured and used to refine the subject lines to narrow them down to just the most effective.

Company PR spokesperson Kirsten McKenna explains the Persado edge further:

“Typical A/B testing will send out only a few messages – then go with the one that gives the best response.  Persado can send out thousands of permutations of the same message to determine which would be the most successful.”

Alex Vratskides
“We have never lost to a human.” — Alex Vratskides of Persado

Comparing Persado’s machine-generated results with traditional copywriting, “We have never lost to a human,” Alex Vratskides, the company’s president, claimed to The Wall Street Journal.

Those results would suggest that Persado is doing things right.  And here’s another positive indicator of success:  The company raised over $20 million in venture capital earlier this year.

The bigger question is whether Persado will be able to scale its simple and short-sentence copywriting into persuasive copy for longer-form marketing materials such as sales letters and brochures – which would make it an even bigger threat and seriously threaten to upend the traditional copywriting field.

For the answer to that question, I’d never want to take issue with the views of veteran copywriter Bob Bly, whose perspectives I respect a great deal.  In writing on this topic, he states:

Bob Bly
Bob Bly

“I do think that either already or very soon, software will equal or surpass the performance of human writers in both simple content and short copy.  We have to prepare for the eventuality that computers may someday beat human direct response copywriters in long-form copy, just as Deep Blue beat Kasparov in chess and Watson clobbered Ken Jennings in Jeopardy.  Ouch.”

What do you think?  Is computer copywriting the wave of the future?  Let’s hear your own perspectives.

One thought on “Copywriting by computer: Wave of the future? … or wild-ass pipe dream?

  1. I have already developed and deployed a rather complex algorithm to perform the copywriting for the Help topics that are supplied with my company’s software.

    I’ve used this algorithm to generate 2,150 Help pages, at the rate of about a half-second per page. Each page has an average 83 lines of text, so the algorithm has generated 187,500 lines of text in total so far.

    One of our clients has fully tested and accepted the results. Human editing was required for just 4 of the 2,150 pages.

    The speed and quality of output far exceeds what a fairly sizeable team of human technical writers could possibly accomplish in weeks (or even months) for highly repetitive but voluminous content such as software Help.

    “E-mail subject lines and other short persuasive copy” seem pretty simple by comparison.

    So my view would be, yes, computer copywriting is definitely the wave of the future.

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