Happy Birthday, Barcode

Boy scouts. Ninjas. The mafia. And you?

Yes, friend. Count yourself among their ranks, because you all live by a code – the bar code.

That’s right. For likely as long as you can remember, the purchases you’ve made have been painstakingly itemized and documented by those magical little elves of the retail world, better known as UPC bar codes. And today, we celebrate their 40th birthday. You brought a gift, right? Right?

It’s hard to imagine a world without UPCs, but it wasn’t until 1974 that the technology that made them possible manifested in the harmless sale of a pack of gum in Troy, Ohio. Back in those days, pretty much anything could be construed as a sign of the apocalypse, and bar codes certainly were. Thankfully, retailers persevered, and as a result we’ve all come to enjoy better inventory in stores, shorter checkout lines, and a slew of other advancements brought on by the granular insights afforded by UPCs.

So it’s the big 4-0 for our friend, the bar code. Over the hill, you think? Don’t say that to its face.

The UPC bar code is stronger than ever… strong enough that it could even be accused of juicing. But no way, pal. These guns are all natural, fed on a healthy diet of big data in the digital age. Technologies like Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) still utilize UPC nomenclature as the underlying model, and the most innovative retailers rely on bar codes to fuel their strategy to this day.

How is it that we’re still running our grocery stores and retailers on a 40-year-old innovation? Simply put, it’s still the most granular data available. At NCS we constantly extoll the virtues of UPC data, yet still find that some agencies and publishers are in the dark about its comparative value. Allow us to take you to school:

It’s not enough to have a ton of retail sales data – even if you happen to have the most, as Nielsen Catalina Solutions does. Your data loses value if it’s imprecise (or worse, misleading), which is why UPC bar codes are such a wonderful invention. Armed with that level of granularity, you can understand buyer behavior down to the flavor, size, packaging… You name it. This level of insight can often have a drastic impact on both your creative and your types of media buys. That’s the power of UPC data.

Want to know more? Get in touch.