Since OpenAI’s ChatGPT launched in November, copywriters have been wondering what it means for the future of their profession, and it’s easy to see why many are concerned. With as little as a one-sentence prompt, ChatGPT can write blogs, emails, jokes, short fiction, explain complex topics, answer questions, and do so with startling speed and competence.
One New York Times journalist called ChatGPT a ‘surprisingly competent writer and sometimes even a clever one.’ It passed a US medical licensing exam, four law school courses from the University of Minnesota, a Stanford Medical School final in clinical reasoning, and a Warton MBA degree. Most called it a mediocre student that achieved a passing grade.
ChatGPT has also amassed approximately 100 million active users in just two months, making it the fastest-growing app of all time, according to a report from UBS and SimilarWeb. It has such potential that Microsoft recently made a $10 billion investment in OpenAI, the San Francisco-based firm, and has implemented ChatGPT into its search engine, Bing.
To test its abilities and tackle the question of whether copywriting will be upended, we’ve decided to go straight to ChatGPT for answers. First, a look at how it works.
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a large language model, a form of software that uses machine learning to predict the most likely next word in a sentence based on a previous entry. Language models are designed to understand the structure of natural language and to pick out meanings and relationships between words. This allows language models like ChatGPT to predict what comes next in a sentence, answer questions, identify mistakes and reject improper requests.
What makes ChatGPT different from previous entries is that it was developed using semi-supervised learning, which means humans trained the model by giving responses a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. ChatGPT is in turn much more accurate than previous chatbots, and now that it is public, every piece of user feedback only furthers its abilities.
So, ChatGPT is a prediction machine. It has been analogised to a crow copying the chess game of a master: it can repeat the moves but it doesn’t understand the why. By its nature, ChatGPT can only produce copy based on the content fed into its system, the internet.
Will ChatGPT replace copywriters?
Even before the launch of ChatGPT, AI was making inroads into the writing world. The Associated Press uses a tool called Wordsmith to generate news stories. Forbes has an AI writing tool called Bertie to assist in writing headlines and article summaries. The Washington Post uses an AI called Bandito to help with editing a proofreading. It could take a copywriter an hour to find this information, whereas for ChatGPT, it took mere seconds.
Let’s get back to the question.
Because of these limitations, large language models like ChatGPT are more likely to play a supporting role to copywriters in the short term. It can help brainstorm ideas, refresh sentences, make suggestions for straplines, calls-to-action, headlines, synonyms, and slogans – all of which can be reviewed by a copywriter. Like a grammar tool, ChatGPT will likely become a tool in a writer’s toolbox. ChatGPT made a similar response.
Still, this response is a startling improvement over previous iterations of chatbots. However, critics such as TechCrunch have called its copy bland. Another concern is that writers could become overly reliant upon ChatGPT. Others may ask the same question of the chatbot and end up with the similar copy and content. This could impact search rankings—while Google has said it does not fundamentally oppose AI-generated content, it may in time push AI-generated content down the ladder.
Don’t fire your copywriters just yet
ChatGPT brings up a good point around trust, and you don’t need to go far to see how chatbot misinformation can be damaging.
In response to ChatGPT’s launch, managers at Google issued a “code red” and rushed its competitor chatbot, Bard, to market. During a public demonstration, a mistake in one of Bard’s responses wiped $100 billion from the search engine’s value. Bard claimed that Nasa’s James Webb Space Telescope took the first picture of an exo-planet when in fact it was taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.
ChatGPT and OpenAI are not held to the same standards as a FAANG company and mistakes are common, which begs the question: are businesses ready to give the keys to their content to a mindless robot?
Today, brands are built on personality—think Red Bull, Apple, Gymshark or Nike–and personality is hard won. Reputation risk is also an enormous issue in today’s world thanks to the rise of social media. Original thinking is another key component to brand, copywriting and marketing that ChatGPT is simply missing. However, if the first iteration of ChatGPT is this good, who knows where it will be in a decade.
ChatGPT is like another writer in a sea of writers and one that might prove a valuable member of a team, helping existing copywriters to speed up their workflow. One thing is certainly true: ChatGPT represents an inflection point in technology. Like the smart phone or the internet, it is most likely the start of an AI explosion.
To put writers at ease, ChatGPT has a concluding statement:
If you need a bit of a human touch with your copy or want to make a splash creatively, then get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org