Home Case Studies NFC stickers vs QR Codes

NFC stickers vs QR Codes



The sun will set on the QR code

QR-codes are a popular topic for conversation in today’s professional communications, public relations and marketing space. Giving your audience greater and more convenient access to your online assets is the raison d’etre of the QR code. More to the point having your customers more easily find information about you, your services, testimonials and reputation, among other things is why QR codes have been so touted. However are QR codes all that effective?

My basic argument is that QR codes will not entirely disappear, but they will become much less used, in the near term. QR codes are certainly destined to stick around as a display marketing channel: to connect retail, products and additional  services in the marketplace with audiences that are using mobile devices. This mobile audience is massive, to be sure, but that’s the topic for another post. QR-code printing and graphic design is extremely low-cost. As such, this is likely why this channel is one of the most prominent means to provide direct access to online collateral.

Yet each communications tactic has distinct histories that can can be told. We find it crucial to track the narratives of tactics that connect digital to traditional communications. In our view, this enables  different kinds of thinking – cultural, social, technological – that helps us observe that NFC and QR Codes are two parallel communications tactics each providing an analogous service.

Devices, payment gateways and sales services have grown over the last decade.  The depth of the services that have been created during the expansion phase of the first dotcom bubble or the second dotcom bubble are too huge to delve into here. Let us just say trends that have made the QR Code and NFC popular have ridden on the back of growth in social, local and mobile arenas.

The typical conversation about QR-Codes in an office setting typically goes like this:

  • Should we be using QR-Codes?
  • Maybe? Why not? Let’s try it out!

This image is from @jcolman , who obviously does not have a strong preference for the tactic. He illustrates the point well that the QR Code communications tactic may be gravitating away from guerilla marketing to the less exciting world of retail promotions.


[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”] Interaction, Influence, Big Data[/custom_headline]

The technology required to use a QR-Code in our view is what most hurts this channel’s cred. Most if not all mobile devices do not come with QR-Code apps out of the box. Apps have to be downloaded from the technology commerce market related to the particular gadget being used- iOS, Google, BlackBerry. This speed-bump created when apps can’t be found causes drop-offs for those wanting convenience. This is not good at all.  Simply put, the lack of bundling QR technology by mobile manufacturers is a major limiting factor to the successful usage and value of this tactic.

Secondly, being that QR-Codes are often thought to have unique appeal for the millennial generation, it’s important to address this fallacy. Research shows that millennials are indeed using QR-Codes. Their adoption rates are somewhat on the low-end, though. Teens and young adults have been shown to prefer Video, Audio and SMS more.

[custom_headline type=”left” level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”true”] NFC on the rise[/custom_headline]


To review, QR-Codes are popular but they aren’t going to be so for long. On the horizon of leading-edge communications tactics, NFC is a rising tactic that practically helps to engineer the connection between brands and demand mobile audiences.

NFC means near-field-communication. NFC will change the way that traditional media channels connect with the internet and broadband connected gadgets like mobile smart phones and tablets. All print media – stickers, posters, flyers and decals – are able to use  NFC.What is NFC? The Wikipedia post above gives the long form description. Here’s the short form elevator pitch for this communications tactic:


t’s a tiny computer chip that can be embedded into material objects such as those made with plastics and paper, and programmed to automate mobile browsers to connect to online assets such as websites, LinkedIn profiles and Vcards. There are endless possibilities, which is the reason why NFC is an exciting new tool for guerrilla marketing. More on that in a bit. Why will NFC grow? The growth of mobile and gadget ownership in a key part of that story. The best place to track and view these trends is the Pew Internet Research & American Life project. Their video about the Best (and Worst) of Mobile is worth watching.

Let’s review one of the main limitations of QR-Codes to show why NFC is going to be popular: The technology required to make QR-Codes work is placed on the customer/civilian/stakeholder. It is this informational asymmetry that causes campaigns and communications that use QR-Codes to fail. NFC on the other hand places the technological and strategic pressure on the agency – the cultural content producer – because NFC technology builds on and works with the assets that are already bundled within the operating systems of mobile phones and gadgets, mentioned above.

NFC is a smart tactic for guerrilla marketers

Good guerrilla marketing is not something we are going to get into here. If you read the definition you are well on the way to appreciating why it’s important to assess new tools being used in the corporate communications mix. Nevertheless, let’s look at the definition to see why NFC should be part of your marketing mix when you want to promote your online assets in a local focused campaign or intervention.

[pullquote align=”left or right”]’any of a number of unconventional methods of marketing with minimal resources for maximum results; any marketing campaign that uses non-mainstream tactics and locations’ via Dictionary.com[/pullquote]

NFC is unconventional right now. The surprise that NFC offers at the present time is a major benefit, it’s help your campaign stand-out. On the design thinking level, NFC codes represent a new consumer behavior that is currently being diffused in contemporary society.

Interac Flash is the new big offering from Canada’s big banks, offering with new access cards. NFC is increasingly the product of record that is disrupting business models. Another example: Moo.com just recently completed a pilot program offering print clients business cards with embedded NFC chips. NFC though has yet to cross the chasm from finance and logistics into the field of strategic social marketing.

The argument in sum: NFC is tool that offers unique potential for guerrilla marketers, and marketers in general, for the local, social, and mobile campaign toolbox.



  1. I enjoyed your post, though I wonder if the software for NFC is currently more or less common than that for QR codes. In other words, do you know if the number of NFC-enabled smartphones is greater or less than the number of smartphones with installed QR code readers, and thus whether NFC currently enjoys a larger or smaller potential audience?

    In addition, is NFC secure? Are there vulnerabilities that might create a risk of NFC being used to run malicious code or actions on a smartphone? I imagine this would have an effect on the general willingness of consumers to embrace NFC.

    All in all, though, it sounds like an interesting technology.

    • It’s hard to say because NFC comes baked into the OS of NFC enabled smartphones, whereas QR code is available on any device with a camera, but requires the user to download/install an app. Based on that I would imagine the # of devices with QR code is greater. However the newest smartphones all have NFC ability so it is only a matter of time before the #s shift.

      As for the security of NFC, a requirement is that the phone’s screen needs to be unlocked in order to use NFC. However some people are finding this inconvenient and there are custom “hacks” which allow NFC to work while a phone is still locked. This is definitely a security issue since an NFC Tag can launch malicious actions (i.e. go to a spam URL) without the user noticing. Imagine if a user enabled this hack, and then put the phone in his pocket? I can easily manipulate actions on his device but putting an NFC tag near his pocket without him knowing!


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