Where now for British Airways' online advertising? Last week, Jason Young, a senior creative director at one of its digital agencies, Agency.com, quit to join the e-solutions company PixelPark.
Although by no means its only author, Young was closely associated with much of BA's most innovative work online, and, for one reason or another, BA promptly had a severe case of the jitters.
Campaign had approached BA suggesting that Young's departure might be an excuse to tell the story so far. We could showcase a portfolio of work that was not only admirable but illustrative of the principle that bravery, innovation and a commitment to excellence actually pays.
Perhaps it would like to chip in with a quote confirming the fact that leading-edge work is effective. Perhaps 100 words or so. Yes, perhaps, it agreed, with a suspicious lack of enthusiasm. BA and the agency then spent Thursday and Friday of last week playing the hokey-cokey with Campaign.
What we didn't know was that Clive Peoples, BA's head of digital marketing, had, apparently, arrived at Agency.com on Friday and issued a blanket ban on anyone from the agency talking to Campaign about anything connected to BA's advertising, and, in particular, about how good it is.
How strange. Those who witnessed all of this could only speculate that BA was rediscovering its knack for public relations own goals. Or was some sort of announcement about to cloud the issue?
Whether it is (or, indeed, has by the time you read this), that's neither here nor there. The truth is that BA has an awesome track record in the online medium, and you could argue that this is something it should learn to be proud of.
BA was the only non-technology and non-dotcom brand to be in the top ten of PricewaterhouseCoopers' league table of the top spending online advertisers in 1999, and has announced that it's doubling its spend next year to pounds 1 million. Which is very much consistent with the bigger picture of its strategy of accelerated investment in digital technologies, from procurement to ticket sales.
One of the most important parts of that strategy is its pounds 100 million eVentures initiative, which is set to include a new lifestyle portal.
The site (it won't include BA branding, but it will allow customers to earn BA miles, the new form of Airmiles) will be an online lifestyle magazine.
But it's BA's use of the internet as an advertising medium that has, arguably, won it the most plaudits. It was the first mainstream UK advertiser to take the medium seriously and its continual innovation, in partnership with Agency.com, has helped it stay ahead of the pack.
BA is one of a handful of UK advertisers to demonstrate an early commitment to rich media and it was the first UK advertiser to launch a campaign using Unicast's superstitial technology, which delivers rich media via a 'polite' loading system. This is triggered as users leave a site and begins downloading after its host page without interfering with what the user is doing, so that there's no irritating wait for unwanted material.
The system waits until the ad is downloaded, then, when the user clicks again and waits for material to download, the superstitial appears and the ad plays. The creative execution was so effective that BA and Agency.com decided to cap its frequency, with each viewer able to see it only twice.
As well as the Unicast software, it has used a similar non-response banner advertising system called Tranzition which was developed by Agency.com, the software company Tangozebra and the online ad network Real Media.
BA has also been at the leading edge when it comes to developing and using software to track who has seen its online ads, who has interacted with them and what their subsequent behaviour has been.
But is it really effective? Some industry sources say the figures they have seen are impressive.
The internet consultant Adam Nyman reckons that BA's online work this year ranks among the best he's ever seen, and he argues that it derives extra resonance for being wholly integrated with BA's offline marketing.
He states: 'It's not just done all that rich-media stuff, it has combined it beautifully with a through-the-line communications strategy It all helps to reinforce the notion of BA as a 21st century company. The online work goes well beyond the banner and completely involves you. Rich media isn't appropriate for everybody, but other companies can learn a lot from BA. The online work obviously dovetailed with the TV campaign, but I don't think you have to assume that this sort of strategy would only work if backed by TV.'
Not everyone can emulate BA. Not everyone has its overall marketing budget.
And the rich-media work doesn't come cheap. But, as Nyman points out, the airline business is a high stakes industry. He adds: 'I'll bet it has high click-through rates and that the dwell time on the microsites is pretty long. It fits with the brand image and the way BA intends to move. It helps underline that it is a modern company but it is still here to take care of you. It has exploited the internet to its fullest possible extent.'