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Could robots soon replace copywriters?

The creation of email app, Crystal Knows, means we could be one step closer to automated tone of voice. But should copywriters really start looking over their shoulders?

Communicate with anyone, based on personality. That’s the promise of Crystal Knows. According to New Scientist, it works by trawling through the online footprint of your impending email recipient (tweets, blog posts, LinkedIn profile) and suggesting tonal tweaks for your message in line with their ‘personality’.

For example, let’s say you’re about to fire off a quick email to Robbie at your design agency. Crystal sees that his Twitter feed is littered with emojis and exclamation marks, so it may suggest you loosen the tie of your own email: pop in a smiley or two. For other contacts it may suggest swerving niceties and opting for the direct approach. Others may prefer a conversational tone with thought-provoking questions.

Cruising towards ultra-personalisation Brands don’t yet have the luxury of this level of personalisation. The closest we’ve come was a direct mail campaign for P&O Cruises. It was aimed at people just back from their maiden voyage with the company. Not only did each recipient receive tailored messaging based on their answers to an on-board questionnaire, the tone was also slightly tweaked depending on whether they’d cruised with other companies before.

As brands stockpile more and more customer data, this level of personalisation is becoming increasingly common. However, it still requires a living, breathing copywriter to look at the cold, hard figures and transform them into lovely, warm messaging.

Clunky, metals arms It’s this ‘light touch’ aspect of copywriting which robots and their algorithms will struggle with. The way tone of voice is required to flex across different mediums is a prime example.

We write for one of the UK’s leading retail brands. Customers love it when we push the tone on their brochure spreads. However, when it comes to product descriptions, research shows that the same audience find offbeat messaging annoying; it gets in the way of benefits and features when they’re trying to make a rational decision. Would Crystal know when it was time to turn serious? Would it realise when it’s being annoying?

'Infinite Monkey Theorem' - a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will produce the works of Shakespeare

Knowing when to hit the off button Subject matter is another tricky one. Last year, we rewrote this mystery retail client’s customer email templates. Our job was to give them a warmer, friendlier tone of voice and to find suitable opportunities to drop in the odd irreverent turn of phrase. Suitable is the key word here. Being twee about a dispatched parcel is all fun and games. Being twee about repeated missed payments is just insensitive. Could Crystal traverse the messaging high-wire?

Finally, there’s empathy. As we talked about in May’s post, the most powerful copywriting comes when the writer taps into the real human emotions associated with the product or service; when they look inwards and channel their own beliefs and feelings into the copy. An algorithm can’t feel empathy. A robot can’t look inwards. Not yet anyway.

In the future we’ll no doubt get whole, ultra-personalised ad campaigns beamed right into our virtual reality goggles. However, for now, the copywriter can rest easy.


Barnaby Benson


Date posted: 13/08/2015


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