Can ChatGPT do copywriting? Yes, but not if you want it to be good!

May 29, 2023 •
Feature image for blog post about whether ChatGPT can do copywriting

Over the last month or so, a lot of people have asked me if ChatGPT can do copywriting.

My answer has been the same every time: “Yes, but not well.”

Why? Because no-one — and I mean NO-ONE — can provide a brief to ChatGPT that’s detailed enough and subtle enough to generate the copy that a good copywriter can create.

I’ve been a copywriter for 21 years, and I’ve worked with about a thousand clients. And not a single one of them was even able to articulate what they wanted, let alone what needed to be said in order to achieve that outcome. (Indeed, most couldn’t even articulate kinda what they wanted!)

And that’s the catch with ChatGPT. It’s like having your own personal robot chef. It can cook anything you want, so long as you can tell it exactly what ingredients to use, exactly what method to follow and exactly how the dish should taste.

A real-life example…

I had a meeting with the CEO and the marketing manager of a stakeholder engagement software company the other day. They needed me to rewrite their ‘How it works’ page. Yet despite already having an existing ‘How it works’ page, and despite the fact that they both were adamant it needed to change, neither of them could say exactly why. They just knew it wasn’t right.

Both of these people are incredibly intelligent and articulate, and both were very forthcoming in the meeting. They just didn’t have the recipe for the copy they wanted.

So I spent 90 minutes asking them questions and throwing ideas at them. By the end of the meeting, I’d formulated an overarching plan for the structure and approach of the copy.

Rather than organising the copy around features, as the old page did, I recommended they guide readers through three broad phases, which correspond neatly with the three broad activities their customers perform when using a stakeholder engagement tool.

That sounds like an obvious solution, but believe me, it wasn’t. As software people, it’s natural that they think in terms of what the software can do. So even though they knew (especially the CEO) at their core that customers perform these three broad activities, I had to ‘untrain’ them. I had to stop them thinking about individual features and benefits, and get them thinking about how customers feel when they first encounter this software, and what customers need to grasp in order to get their heads around it.

And even then, it was me who came up with the three broad activities, not the CEO or marketing manager.

Now let’s pretend this CEO and marketing manager decided to use ChatGPT instead of me. Where would they start? They wouldn’t have the benefit of all my questions or my guidance around what makes for good copy. And I think it’s very unlikely they’d have come up with the three broad activities that the copy should be structured around. So how would they instruct ChatGPT?

Obviously they couldn’t just instruct it to “write 500 words about how stakeholder engagement software works”. That wouldn’t say anything about their specific software at all.

They could try saying, “Our stakeholder software has these features: <list of features>. And it delivers these benefits: <list of benefits>. And our clients are typically people in these roles: <list of roles>. Here’s how the software works: <list of steps>. Use this information to write 500 words explaining how our software works.” But then all ChatGPT would do is summarise what it had been told. Its output would read nicely and be accurate, but it would completely miss the mark, because it wouldn’t make the creative, empathetic, intuitive leap between what it had been told and what readers need to feel and understand.

But let’s play devil’s advocate and pretend my client would eventually have come up with the three broad activities I suggested. What then? Could they just qualify the above instruction by saying, “Structure the copy around these three broad activities: <list of activities>”? Would ChatGPT really understand the human challenges inherent in each of those tasks? The intricacies? Would it understand how each affected the others, so the structure actually made sense to readers? For that matter, would it have come up with the phrases, “finger-on-the-pulse insights” and “…using our proprietary stakeholder mapping methodology, along with a dash of AI”? Would it have provided instructions about which words to italicise and which words to link to other pages?

No chance.

In other words, ChatGPT would merely have spat out a pretty version of what my client put in. And if you think that’s what copywriters do, you’ve never worked with a good one.


My advice: You should only ever pay a copywriter if you want it to be good. 😉

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Charmaine wrote on May 30th, 2023

Excellent example. I was shocked recently to be told that you can just get all your policy creating done through ai chat. This is now the norm and actual advice given to me. I can't get my head around it. The limitations seem like they should be more obvious.

comment avatar
Glenn Murray wrote on May 31st, 2023

Eek! What sort of policies are we talking? That sounds a bit scary...

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