Agency copywriters express concern about generative AI


In Hollywood, the Writers Guild has surfaced concerns about AI as a sticking point in contract negotiations with producers, as they fear the transformative technology will impact their livelihoods. What does it all mean for copywriters?

WGA writers went on strike this week. (Photo credit: Getty Images).

Generative AI continues to grow more sophisticated and prevalent across the business world. In creative fields, tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney have shown AI is capable of generating full-length scripts and life-like images. 

The technology is also capable of producing a wide array of campaign ideas and editing copy. 

For professionals in fields that require those skills, AI’s potential is concerning. This week, Axios and The New York Times reported that AI has emerged as a core issue among screenwriters negotiating contracts with Hollywood producers.

Negotiations led by the Writers Guild of America began with conditions that aim to limit the use of AI-generated dialogues or scenes. But other concerns still remain, including AI’s potential to take over niche roles such as costume design or translating scripts to different languages. 

For agency copywriters, whose bread and butter is creatively articulating brand ideas, the concerns beg the question: What are the implications of widespread AI usage for agency and marketing copywriters?  

Campaign US asked a few copywriters for their thoughts: 

Meg Tohill, senior copywriter, TBWA\World Health

Regarding ChatGPT, it scares me. Not because I think it will take away jobs, but I think people will over-index on it and use AI too liberally. There’s a lot of liability that comes with it, and I think I have more questions than answers. (How do you prevent plagiarism? To what extent can we limit the dissemination of false information?)

I think it’s a great tool for creative exploration (thought starters or brainstorming) but that should be the extent of it. I think agencies will have to think long and hard on how they would like their copywriters to use it.

I specifically work in the pharma space, and that means there are a lot of limiting factors in what I can or cannot write for medical accuracy. With something like ChatGPT, I think that means AI-generated copy would need a lot of effort to work within pharma. All my work is reviewed by a medical regulatory and legal team so I have to keep in mind their feedback and any precedents they have set from previous projects.

Ashwini Karandikar, EVP, media, tech and data, 4A’s

At its core, the strike we’re seeing from WGA is a debate between legacy content creators struggling to adapt their business models to changing content consumption patterns and the writers who claim that the entertainment industry wants to change writing into a gig economy job. The advent of generative AI and its potential impact on the process of content creation and the creative process may only add more pressure to adapt to these changing times.

John James Dudek, freelance copywriter

The impact of ChatGPT will likely be determined by management that misunderstands the purpose of a great copywriter; while AI tools can provide written words, these programs lack a nuanced understanding of language in its cultural contexts, how to apply these contexts within niche audiences and the actual life experience of the individual through which all creative decisions are made. 

There are companies trading skilled copywriters for AI tools right now to their own deficit; those organizations will fall out of touch with their core demographics as they lose the human element of their work in favor of efficiently producing unoriginal communication that fails to create real connection between brands and consumers. 

As we’ve seen in other industries, there probably won’t be adequate worker protections that ensure copywriters and other creatives have as many opportunities in the future as new technologies are adopted. Hopefully copywriting won’t shift toward simply editing AI-generated text to add the human element back in, but it’s easy to see that writing as a profession will change as entry-level writing jobs cease to exist. Copywriters will always be necessary, they’ll just likely be overlooked by companies less concerned with their customers than the bottom line.

Jason Xenopoulos, chief creative officer, North America, VMLY&R

Generative AI is one of the most disruptive and important technological developments of our time. Unfortunately, when it comes to screenwriting, copywriting and other creative pursuits, my immediate fear is that it will democratize mediocrity. 

Generative AI has the ability to automate and accelerate the delivery of content, but it hasn’t yet shown the same ability to elevate the quality. I am constantly astounded by what ChatGPT and other generative AI tools can do, but I am yet to see an AI-generated artwork or read an AI-generated poem that was more poignant or powerful than what the best human artists have had to offer.  

I’m sure a time will come where generative AI will have the ability to outperform our best creatives in terms of quality, but right now, it can only rival them in terms of speed.  Unfortunately, the marketing industry is often obsessed with efficiency, so there is a real danger that we will choose the precision of generative AI over the messy beauty of creative excellence, thereby democratizing and celebrating mediocrity.

Harris Wilkinson, chief creative officer, TMA

We’re obviously all under increasing pressure to deliver against ever tighter timelines and budgets, and this emerging technology will only exacerbate the expectation of machine-like efficiency. But whining won’t get us anywhere. The top agencies have always focused on honing their skills with the best available tools, right? AI is not going to be our source of culture-shifting big ideas, but it can speed up the more tedious parts of our process if we apply it selectively. That’s exciting. But as with any complex tool, it takes talent, passion and skill to do something brilliant with it. So let’s all get cracking on the skill part. 

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