What is the most effective way to advertise a product to consumers in less than 10 seconds? One strategy, according to Faculty of Arts & Science alumnus Josh Rosenblum, is a competition between Graphics Interchange Format animations — better known as GIFs.
As a member of University College, Rosenblum studied in the sociology specialist program for his honours bachelor of arts degree, graduating from U of T on the Dean’s List with high distinction in 2006. Today, he is vice-president at Synqrinus, a Toronto-based agency specializing in creative and innovative market research solutions.
“We do all things client facing,” he says. “Designing questionnaires, listening for cues about how we can best find a method that will address a client’s business problems. It’s a lot of what I learned in sociology, which I love and always wanted to stay close to.”
When one of Synqrinus’s clients, a packaged food company, asked to use video footage of their product to create the most appetizing, seven-second ad possible, Rosenblum was faced with a challenge: what footage should appear in the ad? Market research suggests that if he were to ask a group of consumers to rank a list of ingredients from one to 10, they would rank sweet ingredients above nutritious ones. Therefore, an ad highlighting sweet ingredients would theoretically receive the most positive reception.
"But this product is more than the sum of its parts,” he says. “You can’t make an ad about one aspect of it because it would be misleading, and it wouldn’t be as relevant to the product’s benefits. It doesn't tell the whole story.”
A lot of people love sociology, but when it comes to making a living out of it, it's a little open-ended,” he says. “Maybe I can help give students a more vocational lens on the skills we acquire in sociology. There's definitely a huge appetite for greater clarity around what the options are and how they can work towards them.
Instead, Rosenblum and his team leveraged a series of two-second clips featuring the product through different GIFs. The clips were presented in sets of four to a group of viewers, who ranked their favourite to least favourite GIF in each set. By creating a competition between the clips, Rosenblum was able to gather consumer feedback about the footage itself, which is more representative of the entire product, as opposed to any one specific ingredient.
He explained the process behind this project to a group of U of T students who visited Synqrinus last fall to learn more about the world of market research. Engaging and working with students from the Department of Sociology has been a priority for him for several years.
“I first reached out to the department when Synqrinus was growing,” he says. “I said, ‘How do I get my hands on some amazing applicants?’ I knew there were people there who loved the subject matter and didn't know what their next step would be after studying sociology."
Rosenblum has since developed an internship program at Synqrinus, offering a three-month contract to one or two students each summer.
“We give them an opportunity to get their feet wet and see if they like it,” he says. “It's just about giving them a chance to gain experience."
He has also presented in U of T sociology classes, offering insights about the practical application of theories and concepts students are learning.
“I was able to come in and speak from experience, knowing what social interaction looks like in theory and also having experienced it in the workplace,” he says. “I can comment on it and engage students as someone who can bridge the gap between the professor level and the student level.”
After giving an in-class presentation last fall, Rosenblum shared his email address in case students wanted to reach out to him after — and they did.
"I invited them to come see our office, chat about their future aspirations and show them a little bit of what we do,” he says.
Rosenblum recalls feeling uncertain as a sociology student about his future career path, and he hopes to help current students explore their options.
"A lot of people love sociology, but when it comes to making a living out of it, it's a little open-ended,” he says. “Maybe I can help give students a more vocational lens on the skills we acquire in sociology. Everybody internalizes these things differently. Some people are really shy and feel anxiety. Others are passionate about what they're doing and hungry to understand what lies ahead. There's definitely a huge appetite for greater clarity around what the options are and how they can work towards them.”
He describes his own experience navigating life after graduation and his advice to students by referencing a technique used in sociological research: snowball sampling.
“Talk to people you know who are established — your friends’ parents, your professors,” he says. “Look through your network to find new people. Tell them your interests. Come up with a list of questions, ask who else that person thinks you might be able to speak to and just snowball.
“Networking can be anxiety-inducing,” he says, adding that managing career-related anxiety is a lifelong process for everyone, himself included. “No one’s going to blame you for trying, but we feel it nonetheless. Believe in yourself. Don’t let anxiety get the better of you, because no one has this figured out.”