|  Copywriting

A lot is being said and written (by humans) about how AI is coming to take all of our jobs. Personally I’m not having it, so I will be pitting myself against one of the internet’s many AI robots to see who (or what) can write the best copy.

When talking about my job, someone once said to me: “yeah but anyone can write”. This is probably technically true, in the same way that anyone can technically drive if they have a car and the keys for that car. Writing effectively is a skill, and the very fact that copywriting is a profession shows that, actually, not everybody can write.

But what about artificial intelligence? AI can seemingly do anything and it knows everything, so surely we can do away with jobs like mine and let the robots take over? I was recently tasked by a client to write a piece about #vanlife, so I thought I’d see if ChatGPT fancied some friendly competition.

I’ve got a brief: ‘write 300 words about the rise of #vanlife’. ChatGPT has also been given the same brief (by me). Here, I’ll present the copy I have written in response to this brief, and I’ll also present the copy written by the giant ‘brain’ of ChatGPT.

Someone writing on a notepad, with a cup of coffee, a laptop, some books and some photos around them.

'The rise of #vanlife' by Ben Scothern

Human version

Stylised as a hashtag but a real, worldwide phenomenon, #vanlife is similar to the lifestyle of a nomad, in a van fitted with home comforts of varying levels of luxury. Some simply have a bed and a small cooking station, but the biggest budgets (and the biggest vans) can incorporate showers, kitchens, TVs and more for a real sense of home away from home.

How did it start?

Living out of your van as a lifestyle choice has been around for decades, but the term #vanlife, unsurprisingly, started with social media - a photoblogger called Foster Huntington coined it in 2011. A search of that hashtag on Instagram shows thousands of photos of beautiful scenery and smartly renovated vans - look at a picture of someone watching the sun rise over the Colorado mountains from their cosy van-bed and tell me you don’t fancy it.

Why is it so popular?

It’s a pretty good way to see the world. If you’ve got no ties in a certain area or you have the luxury of working remotely, you can go wherever you like, stay wherever you like, and see the parts of the world you’ve always wanted to see. It’s like camping, but without the hassle of putting a tent up and down in the bitter cold or the baking heat.

There’s no rent or mortgages to pay, and no interest rates to worry about. The main expenses are the van itself and kitting it out, fuel for you and fuel for your van (although you could forage your food, if you’re an experienced outdoorsperson). #vanlife is more than just a passing trend, and as the cost of living continues on its upward trajectory, the idea of living off the grid is going to turn more heads.

Word count: 296

A screen showing the ChatGPT Plus homepage.

'#Vanlife: Freedom on Wheels' by ChatGPT

In recent years, there has been a remarkable surge in the popularity of #vanlife, a social movement and lifestyle centered around the idea of living and traveling in a van. What was once considered an alternative way of life has now become a mainstream phenomenon, capturing the imaginations of individuals seeking freedom, adventure, and a simpler existence.

The rise of #vanlife can be attributed to a combination of factors. First and foremost is the increasing desire for freedom and flexibility. Many people feel trapped in the conventional nine-to-five routine and long for a life less bound by societal expectations. Vanlife offers an escape from the confines of traditional living, allowing individuals to embrace a more nomadic and self-directed lifestyle.

Social media has also played a significant role in popularizing vanlife. Platforms like Instagram and YouTube have provided a stage for van dwellers to showcase their experiences and share their stories with a global audience. The aesthetically pleasing images of picturesque landscapes, cozy interiors, and outdoor adventures have inspired countless individuals to embark on their own vanlife journeys.

Furthermore, advancements in technology have made van living more accessible and comfortable than ever before. Solar panels, portable toilets, compact kitchens, and efficient storage solutions have transformed vans into fully functional and self-sustaining homes on wheels. This has made it easier for individuals to embrace the vanlife lifestyle without sacrificing their basic needs and comforts.

The allure of vanlife lies not only in the freedom and adventure it offers but also in the opportunity for personal growth and connection with nature. Living in a van encourages minimalism, as one must downsize their belongings and prioritize experiences over material possessions. It fosters a closer relationship with the natural world, as van dwellers often seek out remote and off-the-beaten-path destinations.

While vanlife certainly has its challenges, such as limited space and the need for resourcefulness, it continues to captivate the imaginations of people from all walks of life. The rise of #vanlife represents a yearning for a simpler, more adventurous existence, as well as a rejection of conventional norms. Whether it's a temporary escape or a long-term lifestyle choice, vanlife offers a unique and fulfilling way to experience the world.

Word count: 365

Points to me:

  • The copy was written within the word limit
  • Written in a tone of voice that resonates with the client and their audience
  • Formatted properly

Points to ChatGPT

  • Potential pitfalls included for balance
  • Created within seconds

A note: ChatGPT titled its piece ‘#Vanlife: Freedom on Wheels’. I didn’t use that title, so a point to me.

The immediacy of ChatGPT and the seemingly infinite ‘knowledge’ it possesses means it’s ideal for finding information quickly and creating quick pieces of content. However, there’s no personality in the content it creates, which makes it difficult to adapt to a client’s tone of voice. Plus, in this instance, it overshot the word count by some way, so even if the content it produced was suitable for client use, it would need human interaction in order to proof and edit it down to size. Plus, you'll need to be able to articulate what you want in order to give ChatGPT an effective prompt; if your prompt isn't descriptive enough or instructive enough, ChatGPT's output will be even further wide of the mark.

AI can be used as a helpful tool to support content creators and copywriters, no doubt about it, but it won’t be replacing them for a long time. Clients need to trust what’s being created and trust who is creating it, and that is only possible with real people in control.

So should I use AI-generated copy or not?

Using AI to write copy might be cheaper and faster, but the content that comes out is completely devoid of creativity and personality, regardless of how well it might read. There’s no personal insight and nothing informed by the writer’s own experiences. Artificial intelligence isn’t really ‘thinking’ all this up, either; it’s just taking other people’s ideas and work and melding it together. This also raises the issue of duplication; if you’re prompting ChatGPT to write something, chances are it’ll be creating a very similar article for somebody else, too. What happens when more and more AI-generated content is created, and AI starts using other AI content to create more AI content? An endless loop of robot writing that is neither original or personal.

If you are simply looking for information to fill a space, then AI can do that. If you’re looking to provide meaning, or to give an audience something that might resonate, you can’t get that from ChatGPT or any of these invisible mega minds.

Let’s think about amends and revisions, too. If you’re not entirely happy with something a real copywriter has written for you, you can talk through revisions and work towards rounding off the perfect piece. With ChatGPT, though, you’ll simply have to write new prompts, which means you’ll need to be able to articulate exactly what you want, and even then the AI might not be able to understand or achieve some of the finer points.

Of course, I’m not neutral in this debate, but I think all my points are valid. Artificial intelligence may be able to conjure 1,000 words in 10 seconds, which is all well and good if you just want content for content’s sake. But if you want considered, meaningful writing, you can only get that from working with a real person who understands your goals, your brand and your audience.

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Ben Scothern

Senior Copywriter