AI wake-up call?

Sep 8, 2023

A week ago today, I hopped on a Zoom call with a potential client.

He’s the President of a supplement business that does a lot of direct mail (still) and also sells its products online.

I won’t go into the details of what we discussed. However, it was the first time a client had said to me with an entirely straight face that they thought AI could basically do my job.

Obviously, that’s not what he said exactly… but it’s was more the idea that one could just drop other successful copy for the same product into Jasper or some other AI tool and get output that is just as good or better, with little to no human intervention.

Well, good luck with that.

Especially since you’re telling me you’re not happy with the AI-enabled writers who are producing your emails right now. So how is long-form copy produced with massive AI shortcuts (that costs a lot to print and mail, by the way) going to fare much better?

Now, I’m not saying we’re not getting there. Or maybe we ARE there–but not with just any ol’ copywriter conducting the AI tool “orchestra”.

And then there are the super-blurry (at least right now) copyright laws that could end up being legal minefields one of these days for many companies who are using AI to basically rework pirate other people’s work. 

(Oh, and in the supplement or financial niches, things like copy compliance to work around and factor in.)

Now, I’m not saying people aren’t using AI tools to produce successful copy. I recently used GPT-4 to assist with a new promo (now a control) I wrote this Spring. I actually managed to get some decent headline copy and inspiration out of it (literally though, it only helped with less than 5-10% of the copy–which still needed me to massage and edit it).

But it’s misguided to think that an entire new long-form promo can be put together without any human intervention of judgement. 

Sure, maybe you could produce something that will work at a “good enough” level for a short while. That’s a big “maybe”.

But if you want something that will stand out in super-competitive niches and not sound like “me too” copy… and become an evergreen control you can scale and generate revenue from for years to come… it’s going to take an experienced copywriter doing a lot of the work. 

One who can use AI for ideation, some research, and other stuff)… but who also knows how to dig out your USP or unique mechanism, position your product or service, and truly understand your avatar’s emotional internal language and struggles. 

The kind of avatar research I’ve gotten using AI is a good “checklist” for making sure I haven’t missed anything, but it doesn’t get to the same “this person knows me” level of copy your promo needs. It’s worth doing to get you started and to save some time, but it’s not the end all and be all.

Look, I know things are moving fast. And if you’re not already incorporating AI tools into your research and copywriting process, you’re already getting behind.

But now we’re seeing the resulting love affair that CEOs and business owners are engaged in… a world where we don’t have to pay copywriters, or in Hollywood the idea that they no longer need to pay screenwriters, and on and on and on. 

I will not deny that maybe things are headed that way. But we’re not there yet.

And honestly, the more copy (and other written work) that gets produced by AI robots, the more important other tactics and strategies will become–like creating  a strong brand or personality and building relationships with customers.

I was thinking about all this earlier this week when I started reading Sue Rice’s excellent book Tiny Thunder. (I highly recommend it for rethinking the way you write copy and making use of “metaphorical storytelling” to attract, engage, and connect with your prospect in a way that no AI tool or “me too” copy can do).

Near the beginning of her book, Sue shares a story from decades ago when she worked at a big international ad agency back in 1989. She presented a proposal for an internet-based research company.

And the chairman and CEO, who was considered one of the 20th century’s most influential advertising executives, dismissed her idea with a wave of the hand, telling her it would never work… and that “the internet is just a fad.”

About 5 or 6 years after that in 1994 or 1995, I had a similar experience sitting in a management meeting at Phillips Publishing. 

At the time, the company was one of the biggest mailers in the country, sending out millions of magalogs and other direct mail promos written by the likes of Schwartz, Bencivenga, Rutz, and Makepeace.

A discussion came up about marketing on the internet, and I said that in the future we’d be able to put entire 4-color sales promos similar to the ones we sent out in the mail online to sell our newsletters and supplements. 

Well, who was I, a young female marketer, to make such a bold claim? One of the senior male publishers immediately shut it down, telling me that was “crazy”. 

Obviously, we know who was right… look at the scads of long-form sales pages that have been racking millions in sales for the past decade or two (I’ve written several of them myself).

In any case, I share these stories because I don’t mean to sound like those “elders” with blinders on from decades ago who refused to admit technology would change the way we do things.

I know there are tools that are cranking out high-performing emails (one of my mentees created one). And another past mentee–top AI expert Sam Woods–says he’s generated shorter ads that were successful using 100% AI.

But even he will tell you, you still need to understand what constitutes good sales copy, and make the hundreds of micro-judgements that go into creating the right prompts, along with the massaging and editing needed to craft the best copy.

I suspect this company president I mentioned earlier will soon realize he can generate a lot of “okay” copy, but nothing that’s going to really stand out and allow him to scale.

And by trying to do this for direct mail–where the stakes are far higher due to postage and printing costs–it could end up being an expensive mistake. But hey, he could just claim “direct mail doesn’t work”. (-;

Many direct mailers who are still sending out the same magalogs and “slim jims” they’ve been sending for years are seeing sales drop off. But that could be more to do with the “old/old” supplement buyers literally dying off… and younger ones not responding to the same approaches that worked for others before them.

Even AI can’t fix that though.

What will fix it?

I think there’s a huge opportunity for using direct mail as part of an integrative marketing strategy — especially for businesses with a strong online presence or following.

Back in a previous life when I worked as a marketer for a major health insurer selling insurance direct to seniors, we used an integrated direct response strategy. It involved cohesive branding and messaging using multiple channels: mainly direct mail, along with newspaper, TV, and radio ads. 

The direct mail packages would either close the sale by getting the prospect to apply, or send them to an in-house telesales person. The ads sent prospects to the same telesales team.  

And the ads created awareness and reinforced the messaging so that when a prospect received the direct mail promo, it would have a “super-additive” effect on response.

I’ve seen some mostly-online companies use direct mail sparingly–but there’s a huge opportunity to do more. And to do it in a way that integrates seamlessly with your online and social media presence.

Not to mention, there’s that “novelty” effect of something tangible arriving in a mailbox. Just the other day, I saw some copywriters excitedly posting about receiving a package in the mail from top marketer Justin Goff (sadly, I checked my mailbox and didn’t get one!) 

In any case, hope this gave you some ideas and a new perspective on opportunities to stand out from the AI “noise” and combine “old school” tactics with newer technologies and sales channels for maximum effect.

And if you’ve got any AI “war stories” with clients that you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear them. Send them on over to me at, or simply reply to this email.

Yours for smarter marketing,


P.S. Guess I won’t be working with that client anytime soon. (-;

P.P.S. Update on my newly-redone and totally-made-over book, Client Badassery Secrets: I’m in the final stages of getting it set up for sale and doing the final round of quality checks.

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