The robots are coming for my job.
Over the past week I saw two different people post about two different websites that use AI (that’s artificial intelligence) to help people write sales copy, social media content, blog posts, emails, and more.
And I — being human and a copywriter — was skeptical.
A few years ago, I tested an AI that said it could actually write you a blog post by itself, and the results were laughable. As in, not just a crummy blog post, but a compilation of words and sentences that made almost zero sense together.
You may have seen those (mostly phoney) viral posts about bots watching 1000 hours of something to churn out a script?
It was like that but less coherent.
But AI technology is evolving fast, so I decided to check out the tools. The one I tested is called Copy.ai and it offers a 7-day free trial, which is what I tested on a hypothetical sales page and this blog post.
How AI works (and why I’m not super worried about my job yet)
Before we get into the results of my experiment, let’s talk about how AI actually works.
Let’s start with some terminology.
AI, or artificial intelligence, is the idea that machines can solve complex problems and execute on a task on their own, like detecting breast cancer in medical scans, predicting the weather, or writing copy for a sales page.
This kind of problem solving and execution is usually achieved through machine learning, a subset of AI that posits machines can “learn” through experience.
And when we say machines here, don’t be picturing an android sitting at a desk; it’s actually referring to complex algorithms being fed tons of data.
So, let’s say we want a computer program to be able to detect breast cancer in patient scans. The first step is to “teach” it by feeding it a huge dataset of as many scans as possible that have already been analyzed by a human. We “teach” the algorithm “this is breast cancer” and “this is not breast cancer” by showing it hundreds of thousands of images.
Without that learning dataset of images that we have already marked as having cancer or not having cancer, the computer can’t learn to detect cancer. But after analyzing all that information, the computer can actually become better at finding cancer than human radiologists.
What does this have to do with copy?
Well, it means that the makers of Copy.ai and others had to feed their AI algorithm examples of “good” copy in order to teach it what good copy looks like.
The upshot of this is that the AI is only as good as its source material. So one AI system may be much better at churning out natural, effective copy than another, simply because it had better source material to start with.
With the breast cancer example, the AI is basically being asked a (complicated) yes or no question: is there cancer present?
With a copy-generating AI, the results are actually much more diverse. It has to come up with many more results than just a yes or a no.
What happened when I used AI to help me write some copy
So I wanted to see how this would work in the real world, and what the quality of the output would be.
I started my free trial and selected “sales page” as the type of project I wanted to try first.
The AI asks for the name of the product and a description of what it is and who it’s for. That’s it.
We have a client who has a course for female real estate agents, so I plugged that in and let it run.
I was actually pleasantly surprised by the results.
Remarkably, the AI immediately picked up on the fact that the course was specifically for female real estate agents. It spit this out in the first go-round:
Pain: you’re working really hard, but not getting the results you want – despite long, early mornings and giving up evenings. You know that real estate success requires cold calling and networking, but it’s a hard slog.
Agitate: It’s time for the facts. There are nine male real estate agents to every female agent in the top 100 teams nationally (ISMAR 2007).
Solution: Our masterclass is designed to empower women real estate agents and help them get ahead of their male competitors in terms of results.
I was deeply impressed that it was actually pulling out relevant statistics (though, I didn’t vet it), and while my client’s program isn’t necessarily about helping women get ahead of their male competitors, it’s not hard to see where the AI would come up with that.
With Copy.ai, you mark the suggestions you like and then click a button to ask it to generate more suggestions similar to that one.
What I found, however, is that the further down the rabbit hole I went, the further from the point I got. At some point, the AI switched to giving me suggestions about teaching people to invest in real estate, which isn’t at all what my client does.
I also found that it started spitting out suggestions that described the actual course. Remember: I only put in a one sentence description of what the course is and who it’s for.
This seemed awesome at first, a real shortcut. But when the AI started making suggestions like:
Our course is a step-by-step framework that helps you make sense and progress with everything from mindset and business model, through to winning client relationships and new leads.
Once you learn how to identify the right market niches, build high quality buyer leads and sell faster at any price point and you’ll see an instant transformation in your business.
I started to realize something:
If you could use one of these statements exactly as is in your sales materials, your product or offer is legitimately just like everyone else’s.
See, the AI is grabbing these statements from its vast dataset of effective copy and making assumptions about what’s probably in your course.
And if an AI can guess what’s in your course… well, your course isn’t all that unique, is it? It means every real estate course the AI knows about is talking about things like “identifying the right market niches” and “building high quality buyer leads.”
In fact, that could be any course about sales and marketing… For any industry…
These seem like compelling statements — but you’d be foolish to just copy and paste them, because they are generic to the point of banality.
After I played with it for a while on the sales page project, I knew I wanted to write a blog post about the experience, so I switched to the blog generator.
To be fair, this AI doesn’t claim it will write your entire blog for you; instead it offers tools like blog ideas, blog intros, and blog outlines.
The blog outlines were OK, but underwhelming.
These examples would make solid posts from a decent writer (you’ll probably notice some similarities to this post!), but if you’re a decent writer in the first place, you probably don’t need something like this.
(I also thought it was funny that the AI assumed I’d be writing in favor of using AI…)
The introductions were stranger…
“Hi! My name is Lacy and I’m a copywriter!” <— If I ever actually start a blog that way, please assume I have been abducted by robots. The second one in this image is the best, but still pretty stilted — it reads like an introduction paragraph to a five-paragraph essay that my fourth grader would write.
The one feature that might be more useful was the idea generator:
I’m not sure I’d ever actually use one of those long-ass titles, but it could spark some good ideas if you’re running on empty.
Should you use AI for your copy?
So the question becomes: Is a tool like Copy.ai useful?
Under certain circumstances… sure.
I could see, for example, a business owner who can’t afford to outsource to a pro copywriter using it to generate ideas and copying out good phrases to use in their copy.
The AI definitely churned out some good ideas for the sales page project in particular.
The problem is knowing what to do with those ideas.
As I was clicking through the suggestions, I was thinking to myself, “Oh, this is for the ‘perfect for you’ section of the page. This is the before picture. This is talking about the expert…”
But if you don’t have the experience or a template to work from, the AI is not going to spit out a fully-formed sales page draft ready for you to edit; you simply don’t provide it with enough information for something like that.
As I first started playing with the tool, I was eagerly copying out ideas and popping them into a document. I’m all for tools that make the work easier!
But when I went in to actually write the sales page, I found myself using very little of what the AI had suggested. I know from experience that using words and phrases that everyone else uses is not the way to differentiate yourself — and it’s also not the way to convey a unique brand voice.
The sales page ended up taking me about as long as usual — maybe even a little longer, because I spent time playing with the AI tool instead of just getting down to business with the ideas already in my head. It didn’t save me any time, and it didn’t generate any ideas I couldn’t live without (or couldn’t have come up with on my own).
And it definitely didn’t help me write this blog post — other than providing comic relief.
In short, I think this tool could be useful for a somewhat narrow segment of the population: the business owner who understands what good copy is supposed to look like and how to put it together — but struggles with actually getting it done and doesn’t want to invest in a copywriter.
It could be a good tool for generating ideas, busting through writer’s block, or coming up with a different angle for something you’ve written about in the past.
AI copy tools are not a replacement for a copywriter — at least not yet
But I think my job is safe for now.
Copy.ai is definitely cheaper than any copywriter worth their salt — but it’s also not a replacement for a copywriter.
There’s still a lot of work to be done after you hit the enticing green “create” button — especially if you’re hoping to create something that doesn’t literally sound exactly like everything else out there.
The temptation for the novice will be to cut and paste and use the copy suggestions wholesale — but unless it’s “this or nothing,” that’s almost certainly not a great strategy.
But I will say this: I am impressed with how far the technology has come since I first played with the tool that said it could write a blog post for me.
And it seems very likely that an even more sophisticated version of this tool is on the horizon. In fact, I myself have imagined that you could create a simple sales page generator by answering a series of questions (ideal customer, pain point, before and after, etc.) and then automatically plugging the answers into a template. With the addition of AI and machine learning, you could, feasibly, churn out a ready-to-edit sales page with the click of a button.
(And if you’re a coder who wants to try to build something like that… 🤙🏼 call me!)
Even at that point, though, AI won’t take the place of a talented copywriter. So I think my career is safe for a few more years at least.