As the number of devices with NFC (near field communication) technology continues to grow, we are seeing a handful of UK brands using NFC in their marketing campaigns to help drive sales and raise brand awareness, all through the use of mobile.

Is this something marketers should be considering for their campaigns?

NFC is a wireless technology that enables mobile devices to be placed against an NFC terminal in order to access information. It works in a very similar way to ‘contactless’ payments on credit and debit cards: one tap of the card onto the terminal and the payment is complete. 

This also works in the same way for marketers wanting to promote their content using NFC technology. If a customer holds their phone next to a bus stop advert for example, and both their device and the poster is NFC-enabled, the relevant content will then appear on their mobile device instantly. 

It is estimated that there will be over 500m NFC-enabled devices in use by March 2014, but with no clear evidence of results from NFC marketing campaigns, is this type of technology something marketers should be including in their campaigns, or should we be waiting to see what happens in the space?

Brands using NFC for marketing

South West Trains

South West Trains Tap4Offers

South West Trains has introduced a new advertising service, Tap4Offers, to over 300 of its carriages, with plans to extend this service to over 4,000 carriages after the trial period.

The Tap4Offers touchpoints uses both NFC tags and QR codes to offer users deals and vouchers tailored to their behaviours on rail passengers.

According to KBH On-Train Media, who introduced the Tap4Offers service, 33% of those using the touch points have interacted with the service using the NFC tags. 


Guinness NFC

Last month, Guinness fitted over 11,000 founts across the UK with NFC technology. This allows people to tap their mobile device against the Guinness harp logo on the fount in order to see if they have been lucky enough to win a complimentary pint!

This not only increases customer engagement for the brand but also allows Guinness to send relevant content to their customers’ mobile devices. 


Dominos NFC

Over the summer, Domino’s tagged some of its outdoor adverts with NFC technology, to help boost sales over their quietest period.

Users are able to scan the ads to download the Domino’s app, rather than having to download it from the relevant app stores. Domino’s wanted to make sure that consumers were able to order pizza while they were out and about over summer so encouraged app downloads through the use of NFC. 

Should brands adopt NFC?

On the one hand, the brands who are embracing NFC are differentiating themselves from competitors by staying ahead of the curve.

NFC as a marketing tool is allowing brands to connect with their customers instantly, and with the integration of analytics, marketers have the ability to collect consumer insights and behaviour for the improvement of future campaigns. 

On the other hand, the brands running these campaigns are still the early adopters. Although NFC is a topic that is continually being talked about, and we have seen examples of large brands running NFC marketing campaigns in the UK, there is very limited visibility of the ROI of such campaigns and therefore it is difficult to see how they have performed and whether the technology is worth investing in. 

The number of NFC marketing campaigns is most certainly on the rise, as is the number of NFC-enabled handsets entering the market, especially devices running Android.

But until the iPhone is NFC-enabled, we think that brands will be slow to adopt the technology. It seems that a lot of brands utilising NFC are also using other methods of engagement like QR codes or short URLs, to ensure larger audiences are being reached.

We’re interested to see how NFC progresses and whether it becomes mainstream or not but until there are transparent results from marketing campaigns, we think that NFC as a marketing tool will continue to be used only by a small number of UK brands. 

Clair O'Neill

Published 10 September, 2013 by Clair O'Neill

Clair O'Neill is Marketing Assistant at mubaloo and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow on Twitter and Google Plus, or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (8)

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Dan Francis

NFC - like QR codes - has been around for some time and failed to take off with the general public. Unless marketeers can solve a new (customer) problem, or simplify an existing one, this will remain just interesting technology.

almost 5 years ago


Dan Francis

NFC - like QR codes - has been around for some time and failed to take off with the general public. Unless marketeers can solve a new (customer) problem, or simplify an existing one, this will remain just interesting technology.

almost 5 years ago


Peter Tanham

Wow, a refreshingly honest conclusion to the article!

Usually posts like this sum up some nice looking examples and draw the conclusion that "big brands are trying it, so it must work!"

But you rightly pointed that there's just no ROI (at at least not publically available, proven ROI).

Penetration and usage rates for NFC are just too low amongst the general population for it to work as a marketing platform at scale.

almost 5 years ago


Viv Craske

Wow, really Guinness? But the % of phones in the UK with NFC is tiny, and it looks like Apple will go for low power bluetooth instead of NFC. (interesting, Apple's iBeacon looks interesting for marketers).

The way I look at it, is to only consider a technology like QR codes or NFC is there is a channel fit with the consumer with above 25% penetration in each territory.

almost 5 years ago


Jon Fisher

I have to agree with your view that their are no public figures for ROI. These things make headlines in the Marketing Press but through being the first but not through amazing results. I still dont think that the answer for the mainstream consumer has arrived with us yet.

almost 5 years ago


Daniel Angel

@ Viv, sorry to disagree but NFC devices in the UK are already at about 20% of the existing 50m smartphones out there and growing rapidly so there is no distribution problem.

There will need to be further consumer education (however again the fact that a recent survey put NFC in the top 5 of must have features for consumers' next smartphone suggests awareness is also growing) and the best way to do this is through compelling campaigns.

I agree that few are posting figures to show the success of NFC campaigns and the approach we've taken at TAMOCO to address this is to make it easy for our clients to test and learn.

almost 5 years ago


Amy Silverston

Key to usage of NFC is gaining familiarity via public transport ticketing; Oyster cards and the like.

I learned this 4-5 years ago when doing the background research for the Orange/Visa payment phone launch that never happened. At the time the government's invitation to tender for a national contactless ticketing system had just been issued. I got an update when doing the pre-pitch research for Southern Trains last summer. Promoting their then new contactless and reloadable ticket was the focus of the pitch.

Southern et al are being amalgamated into what will be the largest rail franchise, covering SE England. One presumes that the NFC smartcard tickets will be part of this.

The ITSO contactless transport smartcards are now spreading across train and bus companies and are an important part of the Government's Integrated Transport Policy. Ultimately, customers will load tickets for several rail companies on to the same plastic card, bipping it through the barriers as they change stations, and from train to bus. It is also in use across Europe, so one day travellers will be able to go across the EU with one, rather than a sheaf of paper tickets.

Then there are mobile wallets, which use the same technology. And there have been various pilot projects putting travel tickets onto phones in the UK and Europe, as well as cashless spending money.

Does this put the odd novelty usage of NFC into context for you?

PS. I’m not a train geek – I do pre-pitch desk research for agencies and NFC comes up regularly, used in various contexts. In each situation there are comments from people asking, ‘will this catch on?’

almost 5 years ago

Sharon Antone

Sharon Antone, Account Director at TPG Rewards, Inc.

I'd love to see how everyone feels now that iPhone has opened up with NFC. Our company has been helping major CPGs use NFC in their marketing campaigns for years and think this is literally a seismic change in allowing new mechanisms for marketers to interact with consumers at retail through the mobile device.

about 1 year ago

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