The brand's guide to Near-Field Communication (NFC)

There is no shortage of emerging technologies that could revolutionize the way that brands do marketing. But thanks to a recent announcement by Apple, one may have shot to the top of the 'must-have' list: near-field communication, or NFC.

There is no shortage of emerging technologies that brands are being told could revolutionize the way they design, market and sell their products and services.

But thanks to a recent announcement by Apple, one technology may have shot to the top of the ‘must-have’ list for brands: near-field communication, or NFC.

In this article, we’ll explore how NFC can be used, why it might be about to take off in a big way, and how brands are already taking advantage by incorporating NFC into their campaigns.

What is NFC?

NFC is a communication technology and protocol that enables two electronic devices that are within four centimeters of each other to exchange information.

In practical terms, NFC-enabled devices, such as smartphones, can communicate with other NFC-enabled devices. They can also interact with NFC tags: cheap, passive devices that don’t have a power supply of their own but which contain information that they can transfer to other NFC devices.

Why NFC could be about to take off

NFC is not a new technology and for years, it has been seen as one of the leading contenders to spur a smart product revolution.

Already, an estimated 1.4 billion smartphones have NFC chips, and that number is rising.

Modern versions of the world’s highest profile phone, the iPhone, have NFC, but to date, only Apple’s Apple Pay contactless payment solution has been able to make use of the NFC chip that is present in these iPhones.

That, however, will soon be changing, which could pave the way for NFC to take off in a big way.

In June, Apple documentation revealed that iOS 11 will include Core NFC, “a new framework for reading [NFC] tags and data in NFC Data Exchange Format (NDEF).”

According to Apple’s documentation, apps will be able to use Core NFC “to give users more information about their physical environment and the real-world objects in it.” For example, an app “might give users information about products they find in a store or exhibits they visit in a museum.”

While it is likely that Apple will place restrictions on how NFC can be used, most observers believe allowing developers to access it at all is a step in the right direction.

Which brings us to the most exciting question…

How can it be used?

To date, thanks to Apple Pay and Google’s Android Pay, many consumers are familiar with NFC because they’ve used it to pay for a purchase with their phone. But NFC can be used to do so much more than enable contactless payments.

Here are a few inspiring applications of NFC in marketing that brands should pay attention to.

Product authentication

The alcohol industry is one of many industries facing the scourge of counterfeiting.

In an innovative bid to fight counterfeits, Spanish winemaker Barbadillo last year added NFC tags to limited edition bottles of its Versos 1891 sherry. By tapping their phone to the bottle, consumers could verify that the bottle was indeed authentic.

Contests and discounts

Barbadillo’s use of NFC didn’t stop at product authentication. “Given the success Barbadillo experienced [with NFC] we were eager to explore other ways to deploy the technology,” said Alvaro Alés, Barbadillo’s director of marketing and communications.

In July, the company added NFC tags to the neck collars of more than 100,000 bottles of one of its wines. By tapping their phones against the bottle, potential buyers are supplied with information about a promotion under which they can win €1,000.

Each bottle, when opened, contains a code printed on the cork that customers can enter into a field displayed on their phone to determine if they won.

Other companies have used NFC tags in a similar fashion. Swedish clothing line Four Levent, for instance, once embedded an NFC tag in the cuffs of its shirts which, when tapped, would reveal a $45.00 discount.


Four Levent is one of numerous clothing companies that has used or experimented with NFC. At the decoded Fashion Summit last year, fashion label Rochambeau teamed up with Avery Dennison and an IoT startup to create the Bright BMBR, an NFC-enabled jacket.

Using the NFC tag in the jacket and a personalized QR code, the proof-of-concept jacket acted like a VIP pass, giving the person wearing it access to a number of exclusive events around New York City.

Smart offline display ads

Despite the rise of digital advertising, many brands still incorporate offline display advertising in their marketing mixes and in many cases, they’re incorporating digital components, such as QR codes, in their offline displays.

With NFC, however, it’s possible for these to displays to come alive. For example, in France, out of home ad giant Clear Channel ran an NFC-based ad campaign for a Disney movie that allowed billboard passersby to download a movie trailer and enter Facebook contests.

Smart toys

NFC is a perfect fit for toys and the technology has already been used to support toys-to-life offerings in which physical figurines interact with video games.

For example, Lego Dimensions is a Lego-themed video game available on a number of popular consoles, including the Playstation 4 and Xbox 360.

By placing NFC-tagged Lego Dimensions mini-figures on a USB Toy Pad, players can control their characters in the video game, creating an interactive experience that merges the physical with the virtual.

Product display

In June, Chambers’ Apothecary in Chambersburg in Pennsylvania added NFC tags to its shelves, enabling customers to access product information and reviews with the tap of their phone.

This is obviously a much quicker and easier process than scanning a QR code, so if and as iOS 11 brings NFC into the spotlight, don’t be surprised if some retailers look to replace QR codes with NFC tags.

Image by Beau Giles, made available via CC BY 2.0

Where to from here?

The existing NFC applications described above support the argument that from a user experience standpoint, NFC is potentially one of the best technologies for creating connected products and marketing initiatives: users simply need to tap their phones or a connected device to produce interaction.

But NFC’s potential has been talked about for years and except for Apple Pay and Android Pay, it really isn’t a mainstream hit.  That has caused some to question whether it will ever live up to its potential.

However, now that Apple is planning to open up the NFC capabilities that exist in the iPhone, businesses have a reason to start looking more closely at NFC and exploring the ways that they might be able to integrate it into their products and marketing campaigns, augmenting or replacing existing technologies like Bluetooth and QR codes.

After all, moves by Apple have the potential to make or break technologies very quickly.

Subscribe to get your daily business insights


US Mobile Streaming Behavior
Whitepaper | Mobile

US Mobile Streaming Behavior


US Mobile Streaming Behavior

Streaming has become a staple of US media-viewing habits. Streaming video, however, still comes with a variety of pesky frustrations that viewers are ...

View resource
Winning the Data Game: Digital Analytics Tactics for Media Groups
Whitepaper | Analyzing Customer Data

Winning the Data Game: Digital Analytics Tactics for Media Groups


Winning the Data Game: Digital Analytics Tactics f...

Data is the lifeblood of so many companies today. You need more of it, all of which at higher quality, and all the meanwhile being compliant with data...

View resource
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people
Whitepaper | Digital Marketing

Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its peopl...


Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
Engagement To Empowerment - Winning in Today's Experience Economy
Report | Digital Transformation

Engagement To Empowerment - Winning in Today's Experience Economy


Engagement To Empowerment - Winning in Today's Exp...

Customers decide fast, influenced by only 2.5 touchpoints – globally! Make sure your brand shines in those critical moments. Read More...

View resource