01 November 1999

US-OWNED HFC Bank failed to heed the old axiom, 'look before you leap' in the excitement leading-up to the launch of its new internet credit card, Marbles. Amid all the frenzy, no-one thought to check on one little detail – the availability of HFC's intended domain name. Unfortunately, marbles.co.uk had been registered for the past three years to a Henley-on-Thames-based PR company of the same name, with the result that would-be visitors to the HFC site, driven by a heavyweight ad campaign and wanting to open an account, were greeted with a rather different message:

'We apologise if you're not looking for public relations services and have arrived at this site by mistake. There is an interesting tale behind your reaching here, so do read on. You're one of many people who are now somewhat confused because a US company (we're small, so we're being a bit careful about naming them here) has launched a brand of the same name as our company. The only problem is they didn't secure the same Internet domain name. (They couldn't - it's been ours for three years.) So, now you know why you're here and not there. If you would like us to forward your details to a company that we think could help with the kind of services you're looking for, then email your contact details (name, address, phone numbers) to us. Under Data Protection Act rules, you have to know that we plan to forward this information to one (and only one) relevant company. Once forwarded, we won't hold onto the data or use it in any other way. Like you, we're victims of unwanted junk mail and email all the time, so we have no intention of doing anything else. If you have any opinions about this situation, please send an email to the Hardly Fair Chaps campaign and we will forward a suitable selection to the owners of the other brand. Thanks for reading this.'

A red-faced HFC spoke said that no-one at the bank or its design shop Wolf Olins realised until the development process was well under way that there was a PR company with the same name - and anyway it had always been the bank's intention to use the alternative names, getmarbles.co.uk and mymarbles.co.uk [pull the other one, chaps]. Jan Stannard, co-founder of the PR shop, is hopeful that she can reach an agreement with HFC to sell it her firm's desirable domain name.