JPMorgan picks AI writers to handle copywriting: Another blow to agency budgets?

Just yesterday, global financial firm JPMorgan Chase inked a massive five-year, enterprise-wide deal with Persado, a leader in using AI to generate the “highest performing marketing creative”. After a successful pilot, the bank decided to expand its partnership across the company to cover marketing creative that will reach millions of current and potential customers.

According to a press statement, Persado’s technology uses AI to generate more effective marketing copy creating the most compelling message to individual customers and segments of customers. In the pilot phase of the relationship, which first began in 2016, Chase saw as high as a 450% lift in click-through rates on ads rendered by Persado, compared with others in the 50-200% range. Through the tool, Chase redrafted marketing messages in its Card and Mortgage businesses and saw significant lift.

“Machine learning is the path to more humanity in marketing,” said Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JPMorgan Chase. Lemkau explained that:

Persado’s technology rewrote copy and headlines that a marketer, using subjective judgment and their experience, likely wouldn’t have.

“We think this is just the beginning. We hope to use Persado not just in marketing, but in our internal communications to make things more relevant to employees, as well as in our customer service prompts,” she added.

Alex Vratskides, co-founder and CEO of Persado added, “We founded Persado to disrupt choice of words by utilising AI, machine learning and data. Our goal has been to create hundreds of enterprise-wide partnerships with innovative brands like Chase to help them harness the full power of words and drive meaningful communications with prospective and current customers.”

Currently, Persado already more than 250 partnerships with CMOs and marketers and claims these brands are seeing significant improvement in creative performance.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a AI copywriter face off with a human. In 2016, McCann pulled a similar stunt for its clients over at Mondelez. While deemed as a creative stunt then, the stunt seems to now fast evolve into a reality. So where does this then leave creative agencies who have long prided themselves in the art of, well, creativity?

In a conversation with Marketing, Nimesh Desai, CEO of Wunderman Thompson said he sees the move not so much as AI taking over copywriting skills, but rather it relieving the burden of creating repetitive messaging.

“However, the issue with this is that it is taking humanity out of the messaging, while the truth is people connect at a human level,” he added. “There will always be advantages that will be achieved through these efficiencies. Efforts will be made on automating effectiveness too but that’s harder to do.”

As such, creative agencies – along with the expectation of them from clients – will shift towards more strategic and value added engagements.

As in the JPMorgan Chase article, agencies will no longer need to spend a lot of time reporting reports. The focus will be on the creative ideas, innovation and segmentation strategies. AI and machine learning will be just another implementation and optimisation tool. These tools are just the means to the end.

According to Amit Sutha, group managing director of Ensemble and UM Malaysia, the definition of advertising creativity has shifted today. The emphasis on copy and craft is a more traditional way to look at it.

“A copywriter today needs to evolve to be more service-oriented, so he will need to think beyond just a great ad, creative or copy. This is just the natural progression for the ad industry,” he added.

Jeff Cheong, president of Tribal Worldwide Asia added that AI robo-writers are designed to make the most accurate pitch based on data it collects – mostly seen in large volume of content for commerce store, email marketing and dynamic banners.

“That’s something we agencies need so that we can free up the copywriters to tackle a more imaginative role,” he said. But he added that ideation as a concept is still a “mystery for the human race” so for AI to completely take over the role of a copywriter, in his view, is quite impossible. Like Desai, he added:

Potentially authenticity issues may crop up if creativity is handed over to machines completely.

“The rise of the machine will bring up the question of authenticity. Perhaps it time for us to consider adding a product quality tag ‘proudly written by humans’ for all our work,” he added.

More budgets slashed?

When asked if this simply means more and more ad agencies will be squeezed dry, Desai said if the agency is not prepared, structurally, strategically and operationally for the seamless adoption of AI and machine learning into the ecosystem, they should be worried. Budget cuts are generally a result of a system becoming more efficient and cuts have historically forced marketers and ad agencies to work more efficiently and yet drive impact for brands.

“The agencies who worry are the those that are stuck in the traditional model,” he said. He added that Wunderman Thompson globally has been using AI and machine learning for years at varying levels of sophistication for clients.

“Our operating model and culture is one that connects capabilities to deliver on outcomes, not outputs. We have to ensure all our teams, not just creative, understand and buy into the role AI and machine learning plays and how it can help alleviate the strategic value in what they do for brands and this is brain work and needs the organic human bit that powers it,” he added.

Sutha, meanwhile, added that while this can potentially mean budgets being shifted from creative shops, on the flip side, it could also mean that agencies might just become more profitable with the mundane work being taken off the plate.

“There is a lot of talk of budgets shrinking. But the truth is, budgets are shifting. In the past, clients spent on creative, media and PR. Today that budget is split further for data management, CRM systems, and tech,” Sutha said, adding:

“Advertising agencies owe it to themselves to shift with the times.”

David Mayo, chief growth officer of GetCraft said copywriting and AI  copywriting are two totally different universes where “the human version is designed to engage, to paint pictures and to form relationships using emotion and depth, whereas AI is designed to entertain by being as close to human interaction as possible.”

But that being said, agencies should of course be nervous about such developments, he explained. “In their rabid pursuit of profits at all costs, agencies have lost the grown-ups that add gravitas and depth to their offering, and they have lost the creative leadership that sets them apart from any other business,” he said, adding:

Agencies are the writers of their own demise. In opening Pandora’s box, agencies are forcing their own clients to look elsewhere. Stop. Copy. Repeat.

To keep up with change, he says agencies must learn to use AI to work out how to deliver more human experiences at scale – instead of simply spewing out lots of words to lots of people in the hope of raising the conversion advantage. AI should be used like a sniper not a nuclear device.