This spring I hired a team of freelance copywriters from the 19th century. All of them are dead, but their writing survives. So I used their books as source material and trained a computer to write like 4 Victorian-era authors from the worlds of architecture, interior design and adventure novels (just to spice things up). Their day rate was very affordable.

I asked the team to come up with short copy lines for an imaginary brand called Spruce (a CPG home cleaning brand), and extoll the virtues of an all-new, organic cleaning spray. They went to work and after about 20 minutes I received about 50 unique copy approaches.

As a brief, I gave them some examples of the “product-focused” copy I was looking for:

I asked them to write in their own literary voice, and not to compromise their style for this “commercial” assignment (writers can be so temperamental). Below you’ll find the copy lines they came back with as well as my feedback on the writing.

Here’s what they came up with. These came directly from the machine — I didn’t write or edit these lines in any way:

Option 1:

Feedback: Beautiful! A bit long, but definitely adds some drama to the cleaning spray category.

Option 2:

Not sure who Henry Clark is, but I love the use of reviews from everyday people.

Option 3:

We’ll have to check with legal on these stats, but I like the myth-busting aspect of the final line.

Option 4:

Nice angle on the testimonial!

Option 5:

Love the colloquial “use it or lose it” phrase, but this product is not available in cream or paste.

Option 6:

This may resonate more with the UK market.

Option 7:

Loving this connection to the natural world.

Option 8:

Yes, anything grime-like we want to remove and agree this should not be used on carpet.

Option 9:

Sadly this is not true.

Option 10:

Wow — thanks for this! This might work for the :90 manifesto TV spot we’re working on. Will forward on to the broadcast team.

Why did you do this?

As creative and AI become more and more intertwined, I wanted to see how computer models could play a part during the course of a creative project. I wanted to focus on this idea of a “provocative ai creative partner.” This idea reminded me of some of the human partners I’ve had at creative agencies over the years, and how every person is wired differently (with their own personal and cultural experience, and unique creative voice) — resulting in personal approaches to coming up with ideas and writing copy. I thought that if I “hired” a team of writers with a distinct, unique voice, I could partner with them to come up with ideas for copy that I wouldn’t have been able to create on my own. I wasn’t expecting that the machine would write perfect copy lines for me, but I was hoping it could help me explore new territory.

How did you do this?

I used a machine learning platform called Runway AI, and I uploaded old, public domain books that I found online to create a “model” that was “trained” with these old texts. This essentially taught my machine how to write. I chose these Victorian-era writers because I wanted the new copy lines to feel distinct and unique, rather than more of the same kinds of copy I could write on my own. It was also easy to find digital public domain copies of their work. Then I uploaded examples of the kind of lines I was looking for: short, product-focused writing like “The all-new organic cleaning spray.” And finally I asked the machine to generate about 100 lines. 50 of those were coherent, complete sentences, and about 20 of them were potentially appropriate for the task.

Did you accomplish your goal?

Yes! Some of the writing was really poetic, dramatic, and not what you’d normally expect from the world of household cleaning products. While most of it wasn’t immediately usable, the lines definitely opened up my mind to the possibility of elevating the task of household cleaning to something more important than just getting your countertops clean. And this was basically the goal — if you hire a bunch of Victorian-era writers to wax poetic you’d probably get something like what I got, and that can inspire new creative ideas even if the writing isn’t perfect. I mean, this direction takes me to a completely different and more interesting place than when I started. Say it out loud:

It could be really helpful to explore this angle: cleaning even the “darkest passages” in your home, the places you don’t dare look, with a powerful, organic spray. Or the “if you love wild animals and flowers” line could spur thoughts on the organic connection to nature. While these lines aren’t perfect, they’re the exactly the kind of provocative creative partnershp I was looking for.

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