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Why agencies need to stop shirking responsibility in Google's ISIS debacle

By Sam Garrity | Managing Director



The Drum Network article

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March 27, 2017 | 5 min read

What's new? Advertisers are funding terrorists and the industry is pointing the fingers again. The Google debacle in which it was found that advertisers were funding terror groups such as ISIS has led to a furious debate in which Google’s YouTube has taken the majority of the blame.

ISIS fighter

A member loyal to ISIS

Publishers, such as The Times and the Guardian, have been quick to pounce on Google. This is fair in principle, however publishers have also chosen to specifically attack Google because it suits public opinion (think of the recent tax issues) and because Google’s business epitomises the model that has eroded their revenues.

But what about the role of advertisers and media agencies? Why are we not taking the flak?

In truth, we should be relieved that Google are getting all the attention and we’re more than happy to follow the publishers, conveniently swerving any blame, and dropping YouTube from campaigns in protest.

But why are we not taking responsibility? We are the same agencies that have lauded programmatic, revelling in the revenue it has galvanised for us. Now we are distancing ourselves from one of our key partners and pointing fingers.

Surely if we support and utilise these services, we are part of the problem? I think Google have their own challenges and we need them resolved, however we also need to take two important steps:

  • Firstly, we need to accept some responsibility here. Clients, agencies and media owners such as Google will need to work together to solve this and ensure it never happens again. As media planners and buyers we are employed as guardians of our clients' brands; let's embrace this and deliver upon it rather than blame others for recent events.
  • Secondly, in digital marketing, we need to learn from the care and diligence placed into planning campaigns for traditional channels such as TV and press. For a long time I’ve been attending conferences watching youthful speakers lecture experienced marketers on the next big thing in digital. We now need to be humble, recognising that technology is not the answer to everything, and that we have a lot to learn. We cannot simply pass creative to machines and allow algorithms to make our planning decisions for us. We need to apply a human touch.

To help provide direction here’s how we did it in my first real job, where I was a production assistant at The Express newspaper.

An advertiser would work with a creative agency to truly understand their audience and develop the right message (no change there.)

The ads would generally lead the media choice, with the planning/buying agency taking great care in the choice of their investment. With our newspaper they would seek detailed guarantees on date and then position (first third, first right hand page, news editorial etc.).

On the days before the newspaper was due to be published the ad production teams would work on the papers layout, ensuring advertiser guarantees were met.

On the day before the newspaper was published I would create a dummy – a live hard copy of the newspaper that we could all update with printed pages in the various stages of their production with ads at first, then with a layout, then with a story and finally with pictures.

This dummy allowed the editorial team to refine the newspaper in real time, and one of our key considerations was the integrity of the advertisers. Many people think journalists do not care for advertisers, however we protected the brands that invested in us by ensuring they did not run next to any editorial that conflicted with their message, and on the odd occasion we would pull their ads entirely (such as BA ads when we ran a story about a plane crash).

This chain of concern, diligence and protection transcended us all – clients, agencies and media owners.

Technology alone will not provide this same level of empathy and brand protection. We need to roll back, apply a human touch and learn from the best of the past in order to protect the brands who pay us.

Sam Garrity is managing director at RocketMill.

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