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The Next Big Thing in Ads

With the help of NFC-enabled smartphones, ads are getting even more interactive. But are they right for your company?
From left to right: NFC chip, Samsung ad
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The secret to successful advertising is creating a campaign that affects people emotionally and intellectually. Now you can add physically.

There's a new type of advertising technology you may have seen Samsung use--tap one of the company's Galaxy smartphones to a poster and it transfers a song to the handset.

It's an impressive trick that could reasonably engage consumers and contribute to an effective marketing campaign. However, before you set out to create your own posters that will reach out and touch some prospects, there are a few things to consider.

The posters use near field communication (NFC)--a technology more often associated with enabling smartphones to make payments in stores. The concept isn't absolutely new. The first interactive posters appeared in the U.S. a little more than a year ago.

But the technology is spreading in new ways. For example, earlier this year, Lexus ran an NFC ad in Wired by embedding a chip in the page; it was like running a QR 2-D bar code that didn't require readers to snap a picture with their phones. It isn't hard to imagine other uses, like NFC-enabled point-of-sale displays, business cards, flyers, or even matchbook covers.

When you consider any new approach to marketing to see if it might make sense for your business, ask yourself:

Can you afford it?

Clearly, adding small chips to advertising materials will cost more. There are actually NFC poster do-it-yourself instructions already available, so it isn't out of the realm of possibilities, although using it in a national campaign has to cost a fair amount at the moment.

Is it effective?

That is a complicated question, because it assumes that you have the right offer to make consumers want to take action. If all you can offer is a view of a product website, then chances are the uptake will be low. But if you provide something of real use or interest, the number will probably be higher.

How many people will be able to take advantage?

Depending on the technology, one big hurdle to practical use is knowing what portion of your audience has the ability to interact. According to an estimate by market research firm Forrester, 25% of U.S. consumers will have NFC-enabled phones by 2016.

That last number may be the clincher for many entrepreneurs. Putting marketing funds into campaigns that would miss far more than three-quarters of your potential audience is too big a risk.

IMAGE: Courtesy Companies
Last updated: Nov 28, 2012

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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