This year’s Ad Week Europe started with a bang. During one of the first sessions on Monday morning on the Fast Company Stage, Google’s EMEA President, Matt Brittin, and Unilever’s CMO, Keith Wood, met to discuss how to build brands in an attention economy. Streaming it live from the comfort of my chair, I wasn’t able to take in the atmosphere for myself but by firsthand accounts it was quite electric.

With The Times’s Alexi Mostrous (the journalist who lead the infamous investigation into programmatic ad spend) near the front row it promised to be the show down that the industry was waiting for and in many ways it failed to disappoint.

Starting off the Q&A part of the session, Mostrous questioned Google about what the platform was doing to put safe guards in place for advertisers following their front page investigation.

Unsatisfied by his official corporate response, The Daily Mail, ITV, The FT, and BBC all followed up with additional questions focused on what Google was doing to improve brand safety and stop funding extremist content. Other questions around viewability, measurement and branded content were also fielded by other mainstream media outlets, but the dominant questions were centered around the supposed confidence crisis Google was going through.

It wasn’t a good start to the week for the internet behemoth, but credit to Matt Brittin for taking the stage, as we all knew these questions were going to be asked.

However, the following day, Google’s Chief Business Officer, Philip Schindler, published his blog, Expanded safeguards for advertisers, directly tackling the criticisms levelled at the organisation during the session, as well as during the days and weeks building up to it.

The harshest critics believe it was too little, too late in the day to save the company from its woes, but in many ways it was perfectly timed.

By waiting until the second day of Ad Week Europe, the company was able to have the correct conversations with advertisers, media agencies and ad tech providers, and take the time to understand their chief concerns, and then directly tackle them head on. Had the company published this before Ad Week Europe, the blog may have been exposed to further scrutiny and would have been the focus for the Q&A and not a reaction to it.

Clearly the mainstream, or rather the traditional media, have vested interests in promoting premium, trusted media, but the conversation about digital ad spend and brand safety had been coming. In the six months or so leading up to Ad Week Europe, Facebook had been accused of over-egging its video metrics and marketing its own homework, with other walled gardens facing similar accusations.

While we’ll have to wait and see if this creates a long lasting digital legacy, it was certainly an entertaining glimpse into the battle between digital and traditional media. The debate is not going to disappear off the industry’s agenda in the near future but it was a first step to countering brands’ concerns into where their programmatic ad spend is being funnelled into.

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