February 2023 note: While all of the below still stands 100% as my opinion regarding ChatGPT and other AI writers, since writing this post, I found an AI writer that stands heads and shoulders above the rest and can actually aide if not replace a large part of the human content creation process. Learn all about my favorite AI writing tool, Content at Scale, here.
The days of the “robots among us” are here. There’s no denying it, with AI presenting itself in writing and marketing unlike it’s ever done before.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger dropped his cliffhanging statement “I’ll be back” in The Terminator, did he actually know what the 2020s would bring?
And where is that robot-fighting Arnold when you need him?
We are living in a world where AI is a fast-evolving machine. It’s not a trend. It’s not a one-hit wonder. It’s here to stay, and it’s happening fast.
That includes in the field of copywriting. AI is taking over marketing as a whole, and it’s especially coming after copywriting jobs – big time.
What’s changing the game right now is OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a mind-blowingly advanced AI writing tool.
It generated so much buzz since its launch in November of 2022, the site itself crashed over the December 10th weekend due to traffic overages.
My feed has been full of opinions: both rants and raves about the uses of the tool in the weekend of its site crash. I witnessed a social media comment thread where pastors had used ChatGPT to write sermons, and a fitness expert used it to write an entire week’s worth of low-carb, high-protein meal recipes for a client. 🤯 I’m not sure if they were joking, or if they actually did this. There has been a great deal of tongue-in-cheek about ChatGPT’s capabilities.
I wrote this article to de-mystify it all, and reveal what’s true. Let’s get into it.
Copywriting AI: Watch Me Break It Down
What IS ChatGPT? The Copywriting AI Tool Here to Stay
ChatGPT is the latest in OpenAI’s GPT-3 technology, fine-tuned from a model created in the GPT-3.5 series, which completed training in early 2022. ChatGPT itself launched November 30, 2022. (Learn more about the 3.5 series here.)
ChatGPT and GPT 3.5 came from a supercomputing infrastructure (trained on an Azure AI). 🤖
The release of ChatGPT is the most recent step in OpenAI’s iterative deployment around safe and useful AI systems. Safety mitigations around this release include massive reductions in harmful and untruthful outputs, done through the use of reinforcement learning from human feedback (called RLHF).
What Happened When I Compared ChatGPT to a Content Hacker Writer
I’ve been in content since 2011. I started out as a freelancer, and three months later, started my own writing business. Since then, I’ve been behind over 40,000 content projects, which have generated over $5M in sales to my businesses, and much more to my clients’ businesses. I’ve personally interviewed tens of thousands of writers. I’ve trained thousands of marketers on becoming better writers in my writing courses. I’ve also written six books on writing, so, it’s safe to say I’ve built up some knowledge around online writing,
Every time a new copywriting AI tool, model, or platform hits the market, I go test it. I don’t run away in fear; I embrace it, and see what happens when I task it with writing a topic I’ve already had written for my blog.
Now, what I test it for is the type of content that has been my bread-and-butter (and, per our recent report, a bigger sales-bringer than short-form!): long-form blogs and articles.
Through the years, I’ve never found AI able to write and comprehend at the deep level that long-form content establishing thought leadership requires.
The Biggest Problem with Copywriting AI: It Has No Source of Truth
In essence, copywriting AI has no source of truth, as OpenAI states itself on the main page; and this is the main and biggest problem with why AI will never replace a thought-leadership content writer establishing that authority through long-form, well-researched, in-depth content.
“ChatGPT sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers. Fixing this issue is challenging, as: (1) during RL training, there’s currently no source of truth; (2) training the model to be more cautious causes it to decline questions that it can answer correctly; and (3) supervised training misleads the model because the ideal answer depends on what the model knows, rather than what the human demonstrator knows.” – OpenAI
Do I believe copywriting AI tools have uses outside of thought-leadership content?
Absolutely – and I’ll share more below.
But for authority-building content, AI isn’t even close to where it needs to be to replace a human.
Comparing ChatGPT to My Content Hacker Team
For this test, I had a full article on pillar content in my calendar queue, already written by my top writer at Content Hacker, Alyssa.
I decided to task ChatGPT with writing an article on pillar content, too. Robot vs. human.
In less than 2 minutes, it generated about 493 words around pillar content.
I had it generate content on the same topic twice just to see what would happen, and each time, the output looked similar to the above.
Below, I’ve made a GIF showing how this worked, and what it began to write for me (it was stuck on thinking mode for about 30 seconds):
I compared the output side-by-side to my writer’s piece on the same topic, which had taken about a week’s worth of work, from rough draft to research to fully-finalized draft.
Hers clocked in around 1,600 words – three times the length of ChatGPT’s article.
There is a myriad of difference between the two, as you can see when they are placed side-by-side:
Let’s discuss the key differences I see.
3 Key Downsides of AI for Long-Form Content
1. It Writes Fluff
The AI-generated copy is full of fluff.
I could have said all of its 400 words in 100 words.
To contrast, Alyssa’s content is engaging, readable, and interesting – to the point, effective, and unique. Zero fluff.
(Guess how she got here? Lots of practice and work with me! I have a course that helps you become an Alyssa and eliminate fluff from your writing, called Unlearn Essay Writing. Check it out here. #ShamelessPlug #UpgradeYourSkills)
2. It’s Missing the Element of Story
Alyssa starts out with a Tolkien LOTR reference. 1,000 points for that analogy.
AI starts out with dull, uninspired lines:
A [insert topic] is a [insert adjective] [insert description].
It’s formulaic and tired-sounding.
No reason has been created for me as a human reader to care about what’s coming (that’s called a compelling hook, my friends).
Personal flair and tone is missing (granted, I could actually ask AI to write in my style, but we would still be missing the core elements that you see in the humanly-produced content).
3. It Writes Generalized, Crappy Information Instead of Accurate, Deep Information
As a writer that has staked my reputation and income on the information I put out, this third one is by far the biggest and most meaningful to me.
How ChatGPT describes pillar content is not fully accurate.
Pillar content, says the AI, can be created by “creating a series of blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, or other long-form content that provides in-depth…”
This is a very generalized, wishy-washy, inaccurate way to describe a true pillar content strategy.
Ebooks are lead magnets. Blog posts are open-source, free information that more fully suits the purpose of “pillar content.” In the piece we wrote and strategized on pillar content (read it here – AI didn’t touch this piece!), we describe what I found to be the perfect situation for pillar content: pillar pages and cluster pieces. (It’s a newer, but not-so-new, way to describe a working pillar content strategy.)
Guess what. In the AI-written piece, it didn’t touch my strategy! It didn’t know about it, work from it, or write it out for my audience. And that’s why I’d rather use my own brain.
When you have deep expertise, the best way to share that with the world is not to intercept it with a robot. The best way is to work with a human to organize, write, and share your ideas with the world. This is what I’ve found from 10 years and 40,000 content projects.
At Content Hacker, it led to a 300% increase in our company in year one. What got me here was working with a human (Alyssa!) to produce the unique ideas in my head and brain from the expertise I’ve been practicing for years.
Writer: 1. Robot: 0.
Granted, you could rewrite and make ChatGPT much better, but would you want to – especially when the hook my human writer wrote was so much better?
What Joe Pulizzi Says About AI Copywriting and ChatGPT Content
Joe and I have butted heads with AI predictions through the years. 😂 (He thought they’d replace human writers a lot sooner than I did.)
Now, if you don’t know Joe, he’s been called the godfather of content marketing–for good reason. He’s the founder of Content Marketing Institute (CMI), which quickly became the leading educational destination for enterprise brands looking for content marketing resources. He began using the term “content marketing” back in 2001, and that industry is now the fastest growing internet marketing industry–Joe was a big part of that. He has since sold CMI in June of 2016 to UBM, a multi-billion dollar events and media company based in London. Today, Joe’s the founder of The Tilt, which you should read; and leads Creator Economy Expo (CEX), which you should attend.
Back in 2018-ish, Joe told me that by 2020, all content writers would be replaced by robots. I strongly disagreed!
I laugh now, because that wasn’t true. By a long shot. In fact, we were doing $100,000 revenue months selling content writing to clients around the globe that year, to prove it.
But today? I believe that ChatGPT can replace quite a few generalized (read: crappy) writers.
Just beware of the fluff and misinformation (read: you still need a human writer for the good content).
Given our friendly banter over the years about AI and writing, Joe was a go-to when I was putting this article together. And here’s what he said about ChatGPT! For once, our beliefs align. 😂 👏
Joe: “First off, anyone that claims to know anything about where ChatGPT is headed needs to talk to me; I have a piece of property just North of Cleveland I’d like to sell them.
He continues: “ChatGPT, like its cousin DALLE-2 for design, are incredible tools. They can and will be helpful for all sorts of content creation activities. For example, I’ve used DALLE-2 for a few months now and it’s saved me hours (with better design). ChatGPT will do the same for repeatable content tasks, or inspiration for content projects, or different ways to look at content problems. But beware. Robert Rose and I have been sent a number of queries from our listeners of our This Old Marketing podcast regarding ChatGPT. At least five listeners of ours input the same question into ChatGPT, “what is the future for content creators and AI?”.
You know what happened? ChatGPT came back with an amazing answer, but pretty much duplicated five times. This tells me that ChatGPT is an improved Google that can answer questions really well…but not much for originality (yet).
And also, ChatGPT can be wrong depending upon the inputs. For example, I asked ChatGPT “who coined the term content marketing?” ChatGPT came back with two answers. The first was Ann Handley. The second was Joe Pulizzi. Both answers are wrong (in fact, it was coined at a journalism conference in 1996 by John Oppendahl). But ChatGPT was very confident in its answer, even though it was wrong (twice).
We have no idea where this is going to go, but it’s not the answer to all our content problems and it will not replace the greatest storytellers on the planet. Like always, those humans that understand how to tell a story that will move another human to behavior change…right now those will not be replaced. But the prediction business is bad business, so who knows where it will go?”
I agree, Joe. I agree.
Brilliant Use Case (the Best One Yet) for AI: Recipe-Writing – Avoid the Annoying Content You Don’t Want
Okay, now that we’ve ragged on the negative side of copywriting AI, let’s talk about the incredible use I’ve found for ChatGPT. Seriously! It’s amazing.
So, you know how cluttered Pinterest and Lady Content Blogger Recipe Kitchen Blog feels these days when you are searching for a simple recipe?
Picture it: your hands are greasy from slathering the soon-to-be-fried tomato in the egg and flour mixture – and your phone times out. Now you have to unlock it again and scroll through the endless ads and life story from Lady Food Content Blogger to get back to the freaking 200-word recipe, somehow with grimy hands. Don’t even get me started on the crying baby in the background!
I LOVE to cook. As in, I cook on a daily basis. It’s calming, and a great antithesis to all the deep brain work I do during the day, much of which doesn’t have an end – it just keeps going. So, cooking appeases the need I have for a simple, start-to-finish task!
ChatGPT is a recipe game changer because it writes the exact recipe I need, and I copy and paste that into my Notes for seamless stove-side cooking and reading!
I open the Notes app on my iPhone, get my AI recipe, and cook gloriously — without ads or interruptive stories in my face when I need them the least.
I had thawed shrimp in my fridge on Tuesday, and so I decided to use ChatGPT to create a shrimp recipe I could try that night. It’s allergy and mold season in Texas, so my inflammation is going crazy. I cook anti-inflammatory recipes, usually featuring alkaline, soothing herbs like turmeric, cumin, etc., to help tone down the reactions I have to the Texas winter weather.
I asked ChatGPT: “write an anti-inflammatory recipe with shrimp and rice” and this is what it created:
I put it to the test that evening. We had a friend over, so there was a bit of pressure (and laughter, when I told him!) to make sure the AI-produced recipe was edible.
And was it ever! In fact, it was divine! This recipe could rival anything in my cookbook.
It was so nice to read the recipe from my iPhone Notes, without ads. Truly – the best experience ever. I will be using ChatGPT for many more recipes. In fact, this week, I went on to use it for two more amazing dishes. All of them turned out incredible! The spices, cooking directions, and ingredients were all spot on.
Meal #2: another variation of shrimp and rice.
Meal #3: I asked it to write a recipe for a sausage sauté. This was phenomenal!
Who knows, maybe next Thanksgiving’s turkey will be cooked using AI!
Another Brilliant Use Case in Content Marketing: Using Copywriting AI for Short-Form Content and Content Planning
I wouldn’t use GPT-3.5 for a blank draft of an article (I’m quite controversial there – honestly, I’m the only one I’ve heard saying this!). I believe it kills creativity when you’re producing true thought leadership. Your original thoughts should fuel that blank draft, not a bot’s.
However, I would use it to help me with short-form content, and topic ideation–with caution.
I asked ChatGPT to give me 10 tweets about content marketing in my style. It gave me 10 well-written tweets about content marketing.
Problem – they’re very general. Most of my following might already know this. I posted a few on my Twitter, and they were my lowest-engagement tweets all week. 😂
Still, I think you could use ChatGPT for short-form ideation, and refine, edit, and improve.
Here’s what ChatGPT gave me when I asked it to give me 10 topics.
Now, I wouldn’t just blindly publish on these topics. I would take them into a keyword research tool and map them to the right low-competition keywords, and work from there; the final topics will likely look different from these rough ideas.
Content Planning & Ideation for Agencies
Brad Lewis, marketing expert and member of the Blueprint Community (an amazing community I teach in – join here using my affiliate link and get a free class), had an great use case for ChatGPT:
“There are so many amazing prompts it will respond to.
‘Generate a list of 20 blog topics surrounding the main keyword of “dog walking in Austin” gave me 20 great topics, and then I asked it to ‘Sort the 20 topics above into 4 or 5 categories, listing the category and each of the blog topics for the respective category underneath.’
Here are some other ideas that I saw for ways managers can use the tool, I thought these were creative. Finally, I’m attaching a screenshot below from a group my team is in on Facebook, I think we’re just at the cusp of truly understanding the potential here.”
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What 10 Experts Say About ChatGPT
Because I’m not the only voice you should listen to, here’s a recap (round-up, if you will) of some of the best voices I’ve found on this topic.
1. Cassie Kozyrkov, the Chief Decision Scientist at Google: “Bullsh*t is Easier to Produce Than Ever”
One of the most brilliant pieces I’ve found on ChatGPT is by Cassie Kozyrkov, the Chief Decision Scientist at Google.
Huge note you must know before reading her article: She used ChatGPT to write the first half.
And guess what!
That first half is bullsh*t.
ChatGPT is not a GAN.
So, the entire first half of this article is bullsh*tting about what ChatGPT really is.
“Watch out! Just as I prompted (and ChatGPT promptly obliged), the output only touches reality at a tangent. And since we’re sprinting into an era where bullshit is easier to produce than ever, you might like to put more oomph into fact-checking from now on.”
2. Chrissie Riese at DataDrivenRebel: 10x Higher Ad Costs From AI-Written Copy
This comes directly from Chrissie Riese, fractional CMO at DataDrivenRebel, with permission.
“With all the chatter around AI over the last few days, about 6 months ago I started playing with AI in my ad copy.
In this campaign specifically, I tested 100% AI-written copy against my own.
The squares circled in red were human-generated copy.
The others were 100% AI-generated.
$1.82/Lead vs. $11.15/Lead
If we take the highest number of website leads in my human-generated copy, I was able to generate 72 leads at $1.82/leads. If we take the highest number of website leads with AI-written copy, that’s 29 leads at $11.15/lead.
That’s a whopping 10x increase in costs from AI-written ad copy.
While this campaign is not currently live (I shut it down after about 2 weeks of testing, duplicated it, and let the top performers continue to run in an alternate campaign), the results are pretty clear.
I’ll also note that I let it run until about half the total results were generated from the AI copy and half from the human copy (trying to get close to a fair test).
The human generated copy had higher click-through rates and significantly lower costs.
HOWEVER – this doesn’t mean I’ve totally scrapped AI. I do still use it in my process to help me generate ideas – because if AI can help get me 80% of the way there much faster than I could on my own, it’s totally worth it.”
3. David Schloss: 2.5x Higher Costs from AI-Written Copy
David Schloss, the founder of Convert ROI, a highly successful digital advertising agency focusing exclusively on Facebook and Instagram ads platform took ChatGPT for a test drive.
Here’s what he found:
“We pitted ChatGPT against in-house ad copy.
- In-House CPL: $2.95/lead
- ChatGPT CPL: $5.11/lead
So far, our in-house ad copy is outperforming the AI generated copy. Red boxes are ChatGPT campaigns.
Have to give the campaigns more time, but this is after 6-7 days of testing. Same audiences. Same campaign structure. Same creative. Only difference is copy.
What we noticed is how quickly we could pump out copy variations with ChatGPT, but the reason our in-house copy is performing better?
Stories. That’s it.
Personal stories attached to the creative.
My team tends to focus more on story-based copy because we’re looking to create a connection with the audience.
We’re still working on getting ChatGPT to write in a similar fashion, but it’s much easier to create informative how-to’s.”
4. Mark Schaefer Says Content Will Be Heavily Automated Soon
Mark Schaefer, a world-leading marketing futurist and keynote speaker, shared some powerful thoughts with me regarding the new GPT-3 copywriting AI tools.
“There is a natural tendency to pass a lot of this new stuff off as a trend and that ‘new jobs will be created,’ etc. No. Tons of content creators will be out of work or have reimagined careers. This is a technology that can not just write, it can research and replicate a ‘voice.’ I recently interviewed tech analyst Shelly Palmer and he said this is the same scenario as when electronic music capabilities replaced half the working musicians in America in one year. I agree that when it comes to something like a book, I still have a vision, a concept, a path unique to my human experience. But pretty much everything else is going to be automated (I recall predicting this with you at our lunch at SXSW a few years ago!)
Literally, marketing has been changed forever, and those are words I have never written before.”
5. Liz Germain Says Good Copywriters Just Got Way More Valuable, and People Crave Human Connection
6. Bobby Klinck Found ChatGPT One of the Best… But Still Not Able to Replace Him as a Writer
7. Good for Supplemental Content, Says Bryan Eisenberg
8. Albert Renshaw Says AI Will Outperform Us in All General Problem-Solving Soon, But GPT-3 Isn’t There Yet
Albert Renshaw, the CEO of Coincast and Apps4Life, with 15M+ followers, shared these interesting thoughts with me. Worth a read:
“Marketing is, abstractly, spinning together a collection of words and imagery, which causes neural reaction in the viewing audience’s brain, leading to a desired outcome.
This can be abstracted to a multivariate math function, which then becomes an optimization problem.
Humans are best at solving that function currently and likely will for a while, but eventually AI will outperform us in all general math function optimization problems.
To do so, in the case of marketing, likely requires an actual contextual understanding of the topics at hand in relation to the current zeitgeist of the audience, AI is no where near that currently, all it can do right now is build patterns and structures that resemble our own—so much so, that it can be hard to distinguish if it were a human generated structure or a machine generated structure.
A time is coming, however, when this will be the case, not just with advertising but with all of the creative fields that deal in optimization results.
That is to say, an AI can’t produce better art than a human because art is subjective—but it can, and eventually will, produce a better mix of words and imagery that cause measurable desired outcomes in human behavior.
Currently, GPT3 models certainly do not even come close to such an ability.
I’d bet it can be used as an assistive tool by proper marketers to aid in various tasks.
Symbiosis is the best path forward in my opinion, resistance will become futile at some point.”
9. Stefan Georgi Says GPT-3 Will Eliminate All the Writers in It for a Quick Buck
Stefan Georgi, copywriter and multi-business owner, said this about copywriting AI:
“It’s going to wipe-out all of the people who were in copywriting for the wrong reasons.
So people who got in because they just wanted to make money. But it’s not going to wipe-out the people who are really obsessed with the craft (at least not for a while).
By using ChatGPT and other GPT3 Platforms you can eliminate the research time behind your copy drastically. You can even get bullet points, a sketch of your prospect, etc. That stuff is AWESOME. If you know what good copy looks like, understand the structure of copy, and understand how to put the pieces together…
AI should allow you to write copy in about 10% of the time it took you prior.
So, for example…
Pretty soon there’ll be no excuse not to write a sales letter within a day. Anything else will be you slacking.
For people who don’t really understand copy that well…or who kind of get it but haven’t really mastered the structure or the concepts…
Or who don’t really know all the important subtleties…
They’re going to miss the boat.
For those people who are always half-assing it or phoning it in…
AI copywriting programs are already better than them.
In fact, I would say that AI copywriting is already better than at least 80% of copywriters.
But there’s a HUGE gap between 80% and 100%.
This actually creates a massive opportunity for copywriters who are really good. You’ll have less competition, but your skills will be in-demand as people want you to take an uncut and unpolished gem and transform it into a glistening diamond. It’ll be boom times for 20% (or maybe 10% of copywriters).”
10. Neil Patel Says It Can Save You Time (or Rather, His Blog Writer Says So)
In this article on copywriting AI, Neil says that using copywriting AI can save you a ton of time. You’ll be able to generate full articles in minutes, vs. hours or weeks. He recommends the convenience of AI copywriting for bulk content (i.e. product descriptions).
The only question I have? I’d love to know if Neil used an AI to write this, or to help write it. Neil is known for favoring marketing hacks and quick ways to profit over many other avenues. But sometimes, that can come back to bite you in the butt – especially if you haphazardly publish non-refined content that leaves an educated audience questioning your expertise.
Where Does This Leave Copywriting? AI Is Impacting Our Future – Heavily
So far, copywriting AI doesn’t have the ability to produce thought-leadership blogs with deep insight and expertise.
However, the technology is already primed to replace low-level content writers and copywriters. Brands that put out bland or crappy content just to get it out there, as well as the content mills they employ, will be replacing a lot of humans very soon with this AI.
It’s 100% an industry disruptor.
But that industry of content mills and drudge writers probably needs to die anyway, because crappy content needs to die. 💀
But that just means writers with actual craft will become more important than ever. With so many brands publishing bland, same-y, auto-produced content, standing out with stories, personality, deep expertise, and humanness will be a HUGE differentiator.
For ALL of my content, I invest in that type of quality. I invest in the human writer who can get it done. Do you?
If you said “no” — but you WANTED to say “yes” — let’s make that happen. 💥
Our Done-For-You Content Engine is the way. We’ll handle it all:
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The bots are coming, but it will be a while before they can replace true wordsmiths. Let’s get one on your team and writing your content today. Talk to us to get started building your Content Engine.