Technological Unemployment: Why Copywriters Might be Next


During the last year we have been continuously bombarded with news regarding the future of technological unemployment. The question no longer seems to be if algorithms will actually grab large swaths of the occupation landscape, but rather if we will be able to generate new jobs for humans. Now, it seems as if the robots will make an entrance in a field marked by some creative traits. This indicates that there are not exclusively the jobs regarded as monotonous that might be subjected to the forces of automation.

At least previously, occupations with a creative edge have been perceived to be among the safest to have in the technological race, whereas easily automated jobs such as telemarketing, accounting and paralegal activities have been labeled as very replaceable. On the other hand, we have already seen the emergence of robotic journalists that are already operating by conveying brief financial news and the like. So why would we be surprised now when a company recently raised a lot of capital in order to achieve a computerized equivalent of copywriters? We hope that this story can figure as an example regarding that commercial incentive is a force too strong not to be reckoned with, when it comes to whether humans or robots should conduct a certain job.

The company leading this development is named Persado Inc. and was founded in New York in 2012. The firm’s specialty is automated messages, the type that triggers a purchase or makes you renew a subscription, and similar things. These are tasks previously conducted by copywriters, which have been trying to achieve the desired outcomes by their knowledge of words and human psychology.   Copywriters can of course be incredibly good at what they do, and may convert customers with their talent, experience or minor-scale data-driven approaches. However, Persado claims to eliminate the inherent guesswork out of copywriting with what they are calling “persuasion automation”.

The company finds an array of commercial applications for its solutions, spanning from telecommunications and retail, to travel and hospitality as well as financial services. According to the company’s website, the process they offer could be described in three simple steps:

  1. The software maps the marketing language that applies to the customer’s brand, parsing words and phrases into emotional, descriptive and formatting values.
  2. The solution creates millions of variations of a marketing message, considering all combinations of emotions, features, and format options.
  3. Finally, Persado discovers the most persuasive emotions, and generates language that will drive the greatest response.

In an article from Forbes, one of the board members tries to describe the product. He says that the company’s solution can remove any uncertainty about what messages will and will not work by using natural language generation, a branch of natural language processing. Data about the impact of specific words and phrases can be used in combination with semantic algorithms to create the most persuasive message. This statement might sound truly worrisome to the people earning their living putting together messages.

One recent investor in the company is the big player Citi Ventures, as briefly explained in the short commercial video below. However, it is maybe important to mention that Citi has an interest in promoting the quality of the solution, since it helped lead Persado’s current $21 million Series B round of funding, as Consumerist points out.

According to Impact Lab, Citi uses Persado for its credit card business and says the rate at which its emails are opened has increased by 70%. In addition, the rate at which recipients who open those emails go on to click on them has increased by 114%. Furthermore, the CEO and mathematician Alex Vratskides tells the The Wall Street Journal that the company “has never lost to a human”. According to the same source, the new money raised in the funding will be used to expand Persado’s salesforce, which wins deals from large companies by offering to match its software against human writers, and to expand beyond email into new distribution channels and new markets.

Maybe Persado’s system is not going to come up with the next “Just Do It” campaign, but it is still a force to reckon with as the copywriting profession gets partially disrupted.  It will for sure begin to replace people at an increasing rate (this process has already started), and the first to go are probably the copywriters complaining over their wasted degrees and that their bound to pursue something more fruitful and fulfilling. Maybe they will soon regret these complaints?

One side of the technological unemployment debate argues that we will manage to replace today’s dull jobs (which will be handled by machines) with ‘better’ ones. This far these speculators are partly right, since the unfulfilling side of copywriting is under the attack of algorithms. The question remains if the people getting fired will find ‘better’ or ‘nicer’ jobs anytime soon.


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