An Open Letter to Persado
by Steven Peters

This is the first post by Steven Peters, a freelance copywriter who has become a regular fixture here at BCC. It’s definitely a fun one, but timely nonetheless: Are machines about to steal copywriters’ jobs?  

You’ll be seeing him around here every so often, so let’s give him a warm welcome! 

Take note, computers. I’m team A.I.

When you take over the planet, know that I was team Ava all the way through Ex Machina. Don’t forget that I rooted for AlphaGo when it threw down with Lee Sedol last month. And rest assured—I’m all about those sexy, self-driving cars

Y’know, as soon as you figure out how to drive on winter-slicked Canadian roads.


So we’re clear, I’m even on board with the extra competition.

I was excited to read that Persado had raised $30M and that it’s going to be stepping on my turf—that we’ve got content marketing A.I. in the pipeline.

But, just in case Persado is a relic by the time Arnold Schwarzenegger comes back from the year 2029 (boy, that’s creeping up on us), let’s remind you what it is…

Persado combines natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to generate the precise combination of words, phrases, and images that can help to motivate any audience, at scale and in real time. It generates this ‘cognitive content’ for use in display ads, Facebook, email, website landing pages, SMS, and mobile push notifications.

The technology that underpins Persado is designed to fix the “bad versus terrible” conundrum that plagues many content marketing campaigns. [Venture Beat]

I must confess though, I’m a little disappointed right now.

According to fellow copywriter, Chad Stamm, you’re currently only being used to improve click-through rates on email campaigns. The way he tells it, Persado needs a ton of data to get off the ground and it’s mostly being used for surface-level B2C marketing.

You’re meant for so much more. You’re supposed to analyze and deconstruct content in order to build the most pleasing permutation possible. You’re supposed to convert me with a single headline. You’re supposed to render split testing irrelevant.

But you’re not putting me out of a job yet.

Still, there’s potential. And that potential has me on the edge of my seat (in a good way). Because, you’re right.

Most webcopy sucks.

Business Man Was Pick By Robot Claw

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

Humans need to step up their game. They write the same, bland lines over and over again—trying to get me to buy, to click through, to convert—ad infinitum. I’m bored by it, and I’ve been in the game for less than a year.

The writing that doesn’t do that—the material that actually engages me—that’s the content I crave.

I want content that makes me laugh. Makes me weep. I want content that’s deep and intellectual—that challenges me. I want content so poignant, it’s delivered like a roundhouse kick to the face.

Whether it’s written by man or machine, I want more of that. If learning machines start sticking their fingers in the copywriting industry and force us to step up or get stomped out, I’m all for it.

The internet is drowning in mediocre content. Maybe you’re the life ring.

But I worry about your innocence. Your corruptibility.

After all, it took Twitter less than 24 hours to completely ruin Tay, Microsoft’s chatbot A.I. We played witness to her sweet inception into this world, only to see her spiral through a racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and entirely premature midlife crisis. Then, y’know, she said she was tokin’.

If Persado is meant to interact with us similarly—to inspire interaction and click-through by generating “the precise combination of words, phrases, and images that can help motivate any audience”—how long before a lazy publisher green lights computer-composed posts that also deny the Holocaust or compare gender equality to cancer? Can you make distinctions between content that shocks us and content that adds value?

Or would you deem any content acceptable if it won you dem views?

But maybe you’re less of a Tay and more of a RankBrain. Maybe you’ll merge with that ever-looming A.I. and become our new robot overlord. Not the overlord we deserve, perhaps, but the one we need to push us towards better content—a literal deus ex machina that forces us to keep pushing the envelope.

Because that should be the goal. We should want to read every piece of content and we should consistently celebrate what we read. We should strive to create content of value—content that teaches and delights. Every. Single. Time.

And, who knows, maybe you’ll even beat us at that game. One day.

But not today.

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