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Why AI?

A note from Thread’s creative director

By Audrey Aiken

When the idea of AI copywriting was first raised at Thread back in 2020, I’d be lying if I said I saw the future coming and opened my arms wide. I think my actual words were, “No, thank you.”

That was easy for me to say back then. For one, I was able to step aside because Thread had an AI team that was on it. Excited and curious about pursuing generative learning, they caught the ball and immediately headed down the field. For another, early testing churned out copy like this, so it was easy to stick my fingers in my ears and say la-la-la-la-la:

You’re a woman who doesn’t need a lot of words to get her point across. These shorts do just fine.

Wherever you go, your sweat top will follow. That’s because it will never stop hugging your body.

That was 2020. And now, thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of that AI team, Thread is introducing an AI copywriting tool that we’re all proud to recommend. Our AI writing service follows the best practices of digital retail, quickly creating lots and lots of accurate, consumer-friendly ecommerce product descriptions. We’ve trained the tool to avoid the robotic repetition of phrasing and nonsensical hallucination that are the tells of off-the-shelf AI. As career copywriters and word nerds, we give it our blessing. The potential benefits to both our clients and our writing team are significant.

But we aren’t unaware of the friction. We’re thinking deeply about what the introduction of an AI copywriting service means for Thread as a business and as a writing community. Here’s what’s top of mind for us as we launch our AI tool. We’d love to hear from you about other topics that are on your mind.

Threat to creativity

What we know about AI copywriting is that it isn’t writing at all, but math. Words are predicted based on what typically comes next in the giant pile of content the tool has ingested. In other words, it’s teaching itself how to “write” based on all the marketing writing that’s come before it. But re-creating is the exact opposite of creating.

At Thread, our platinum rule of marketing writing is to make it not sound like marketing writing. While AI is designed to generate copy that sounds “right” (i.e., similar to the mountains of marketing writing already on the internet), our writers are striving to make copy that sounds “wrong.” They’re skilled at waking up an audience with a fresh turn of phrase they haven’t heard before. Our AI copywriting tool creates copy that’s friendly and conversational, clean and accurate, but by design it can never be truly original.

As the world gets flooded with AI-generated copy, originality will become increasingly rare and valuable. Separating the signal from the noise will only become more challenging for brands. Creatives will be the ones tasked with developing those signals. That task will require us to lean hard on all of our human-given attributes: empathy, humor, critical thinking, folding in social and cultural context, nuance, surprise. In short, anticipating what a customer wants to hear and intuiting how they’ll want to hear it. As AI copywriting frees creatives from rote, repetitive production work, we’ll be able to focus our energies on honing these skills.

Writer employment

At Thread we employ both full-time and part-time writers, and so the decision to potentially replace copywriters with an AI copywriting tool isn’t hypothetical. We have an obligation to our clients and to the financial health of our studio to stay ahead of technical advances that gain efficiencies in our work. But we also have a responsibility to the smart, talented people who work with us. Our approach is threefold.

  1. Upskill our writing team on AI. We invited our writers and editors to participate early during our AI pilot. They were an integral part of training, critiquing and building our AI writing tool. They can spot where AI works best (and doesn’t) and know how to use it to be more efficient at their jobs. These are skills and experience they’ll need to stay professionally relevant as AI copywriting becomes mainstream.
  2. AI frees up our writers to focus on the briefs that require more strategic thinking and creativity. Anyone who’s worked in creative knows that a project will take you as much time as you have to give it. And generally speaking, the quality of the work improves the more space for iteration you have. When AI takes care of high-volume, turnkey copywriting, it buys writers more time to pay attention to a client’s highest priority projects.
  3. AI will make some jobs obsolete, change others and create new ones. We’ve spent the past few years getting to know AI’s strengths and limitations: understanding how we can work with it, supplement it or focus our talents where it will forever come up short. Going forward, Thread will continue to need highly skilled, experienced copywriters. AI will also enable Thread to offer new services, and more robust options of existing services, all of which will require experienced creatives.

Fairness and bias

Our AI tool is trained with precautions against bias. A safe content detector is run over the dataset and outputs, so that the AI learns to be more neutral and objective in its responses. This may not eliminate bias completely, as we have to strike a balance between performance and safety (even humans disagree on what’s completely neutral), but our AI partner takes active steps using the most advanced techniques available in the industry to minimize bias.

When and where we use AI

As a creative studio, we work with our clients to prioritize their needs with an understanding that not every project has equal reach or impact. Together we determine where deep thinking and creativity are required, and where they’re not. Maybe it’s copy for a celebrity collaboration that gets the extra love, or a campaign about new sustainability practices. Whereas for search metatags or a six-pack of white socks, good enough is good enough. Creative work by definition requires a constant calibration of efficiency and art. Our AI tool helps us redirect meaning where it’s needed most.

Wherever and whenever brands are able, the winning strategy is to invest in original, empathetic creative work that feels fresh, unexpected and relatable. But with the sheer volume of content flooding the marketplace, the majority of brands can’t afford that level of investment everywhere. Thread’s approach to brand communications and storytelling hasn’t changed. Humans crave meaning. We’re hard-wired for connection. And Thread will always place its bets on the most meaningful connections brands can make with their consumers. Our AI copywriting service helps brands free time and resources, redirecting the might of our writing staff where they’ll have the most impact.

Drum roll, please: Thread is now a Certified B Corp! We 🎉 are 🎉 stoked