The latest initialism for your lexicon

NFC - or near field communication - has gained more steam through the news that Apple was including it in its latest device, the iPhone 6.

If you ask people what "NFC" stands for, many might reply "National Football Conference," which is part of the NFL. That could very well change in the near future.

For those of us who live and breathe tech, NFC – or near field communication – is a pretty fantastic technology that has been around for some time now, but has only made significant headway in the past four or five years through advances in smartphones. In recent weeks, however, it’s gained more steam through the news that Apple was including it in its latest device, the iPhone 6.

Before we go down an "Android users have had NFC for years" hole, I refer to the Apple news purely to point it out for what it is – something that will make NFC far more popular with everyday users. You need not be an Apple fanboy to believe this will happen.

All that said, why is this important for marketers? It means the ubiquitous smartphone will be all the more prevalent during everyday tasks, whether it’s boarding gates at airports, entering concerts or other events, or what’s probably the most important – mobile payments. Payments, however, aren’t what we’re here to discuss.

Let’s talk about how NFC can do things other technologies have only hoped to do.

QR codes, for example. QR had a great opportunity. Scan a code, just like a bar code on about everything we buy at a store with our phones, and be instantly transported to a website, a video on YouTube, or an SMS to be sent. Brilliant, right? Well, sort of. First off, not all smartphones came with QR readers. Most stock camera apps didn’t read them. Sometimes, QR codes couldn’t be read. There are myriad reasons why QR didn’t do what many of us expected.

This is where NFC comes in. Expect to see touchless brand campaigns, such as this one from Guinness, or easily executed donation campaigns, such as this one from UNICEF from spring 2013, even more frequently, whether or not Apple lifts restrictions on its devices and adds support for items such as NFC tags, which can be used in a multitude of ways – at home, work, or on the go.

What does this mean? Just as QR codes, SMS campaigns, and other advancements got us thinking (or, at a minimum, caused a few of our phones to ring and inboxes to fill), there is now another tool in the proverbial marketing toolbox with some serious potential.

You needn’t have a smartphone OS affiliation to see that.

Tom Biro is VP of Allison+Partners' Seattle office. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at or on Twitter @tombiro.

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