A couple of weeks ago, I was scanning Advertising Age online and noticed B.L. Ochman’s article ‘No, QR Codes Aren’t Dead. They’re Just Used Badly’. As someone who has a not-so-secret aversion to QR Codes, I was obviously intrigued. The article itself was nothing groundbreaking, but it did get me thinking about the future of QR codes and one of the most interesting emerging digital technologies for advertisers: NFC.

If you’re not familiar with NFC (Near Field Communication), it has recently become the most widely used technology for Smartphone payments – including Google Wallet. What’s unique and noteworthy about the technology is that, unlike Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, it doesn’t require an elaborate pairing process between devices. NFC pairing is enabled based on the proximity (4cm or less) of a NFC chip to another NFC enabled device. Once connected, you can securely share pretty much any type of information or media.

Back in May, Google posted a bunch of footage on YouTube from the 2011 Google I/O Developers conference and in my opinion ‘How to NFC’ was the most impressive of the bunch. The NFC presentation is over 60mins long and a large chunk is designed for developers, however the first third does contain some pretty awesome demos showcasing some of the possibilities of NFC. I’ve included at the end of this post direct links to these highlights, which are well worth checking out.

Looking at NFC under a social lens, the most interesting aspect of the technology is the ability to interact with other NFC enabled devices with zero clicks. This streamlined process will open the door for pre-authorized check-ins, instant content sharing via social networks, and seamless electronic payments between friends.

With the convergence of digital, mobile, social, and real-time location-based applications, we’re already seeing some innovative campaigns that leverage existing technology to enable the distribution of real-time experiences.  Two that immediately come to mind are Coca-cola’s ‘Real-life Like’ and Luna Park’s ‘My Experience’.

It’s only a matter of time until NFC adoption becomes more widespread. In-Stat recently presented research indicating that NFC adoption will ‘increase at a compound annual rate of 129 per cent’ until 2015, when it will reach 30% of Smartphones on the market. When it does, NFC will be a critical technology leveraged by advertisers and a key piece in bridging the gap between digital and real-life experience. There are exciting times ahead for brands and agencies willing to think outside of the box.

Highlights from Google 2011 I/O Developers Conference ‘How to NFC’ Presentation:

Basic NFC Tag Read Demo

QR Code v NFC Comparison Demo

Basic NFC Tag Write Demo

Basic NFC Peer-to-peer Demo

NFC Peer-to-peer Multi-player Gaming Demo

Zero-click Sharing via NFC

Zero-click Media sharing via NFC

Zero-click Application Sharing via NFC

I’m interested to hear from you. Do you believe QR Codes are passing fad? Will NFC change the way we market?


  1. What is going to be the cost of putting NFC chips in everything as opposed to printing a QR code and putting it up anywhere?

  2. Ty Hansen

    QR codes are here to stay and they will be used far more extensively than NFC both now and in the future. Your title on this article couldn’t be further from the truth. QR codes are cheap, simple to implement and they are highly visible (one code can reach many people). NFC requires an initiator chip, a target chip and software to process it all. A passive NFC chip must be installed within every target. That chip will have to be programmed and then replicated. There is a setup cost and a time cost to getting NFC up and running. Starbucks recently said ‘no thank you’ to NFC, not worth the trouble. QR codes are created in seconds and can be presented in almost any visual format. NFC will be used for supply chain management, inventory and some marketing initiatives, but it won’t come close to rivaling QR code usage and adoption for a long long time, if ever.

  3. We think both QR Code and NFC will be use. Like we are doing for local business : WebApp + NFC + QRcode. NFC will jus be more simply for more people than use an App for “scanning” a QR Code. But QR Code will be use for many printing. The website is in french 😉

  4. Ty Hansen sums it up well. Both NFC and QR codes have their place and uses. Characterizing one as succeeding the other hints that you don’t realize that. However, I suspect you do, but you are trying to put out sensational headlines to draw in readers.

    QR codes allow us to tag the physical world with a digital identifier, at almost zero cost. Further, it allows completely anonymous interaction by the user (with the option to proceed beyond anonymity). This is useful in so many ways, I could write a book on potential applications.

    NFC is similar, but the cost is far from zero, and the anonymity isn’t there. I won’t swipe my phone attached to my digital wallet against an NFC device unless I know I trust the origin. With QR, I can scan without much worry, as it merely contains a digital intent which I must act on.

    In applications like payments, where trust must already be established, and low/zero cost isn’t as necessary, NFC is a better option.

  5. Rick Jessup

    Of all the technologies nobody uses, QR codes continue to be my favourite. And that’s your issue. They’re fun, they work, and nobody in North America outside of the ad industry could care less. Even worse, studies continue to show that our 18-24s know what they are but have no interest in using them. It all comes down to not even being able to say “RIP QR” because they never lived in the first place.

    NFC has huge challenges that won’t improve soon, mostly surrounding everyone wanting a piece of the pie. Without a single standard it’s bound to die. But if the credit card companies can align with Google and/or Apple suddenly you have one standard in every phone, and a single standard at terminal. With an average two-year refresh cycle for smartphones that makes NFC a possibility.

    But not until we get that one standard. We’ve had a single QR standard for years, how are the QR believers going to defend the fact that the only successful QR case study is for one fake supermarket in Asia?

  6. HeyNeil

    I think the issue here isn’t Cam’s opinion that QR Codes are often to check the advertising innovacion box and not to get results (I agree) it’s that saying goodbye QR hello NFC as though the two always do the same thing, like saying Goodbye Cut/Paste, Hello ATM. Wait, what?

    The decision tree to use a QR code looks like this:
    1) Is your consumer somewhere that has internet access on their mobile device?
    +2) Do you want them to go somewhere on their phone?
    +3) Is the URL painfully long and they’ll never type it?
    =QR CODE

    Whereas for NFC it’s like this
    1) Do you want to conduct a two-way transaction between mobile devices
    +2) Does your consumer have a phone newer than the iPhone 4S?
    +3) Does the transaction involve secure data or long quantities of data?
    +4) Can the two devices be close enough to bump?

    QR Codes should definitely die, once Libya settles down and bit.ly makes a comeback and we all like URL shorteners again, let’s all pray. But NFC killing QR codes is crazy overkill.

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