• 03.28.11

Who’s Next: Vivian Rosenthal’s Big Idea For Interactive Advertising

Architect, designer, and the advertising impresario behind Tronic, GoldRun.

Who’s Next: Vivian Rosenthal’s Big Idea For Interactive Advertising
[Photo: Henry Leutwyler]

Big idea: “I want to turn every aspect of our lives into a game,” says the 35-year-old entrepreneur, “by marrying the digital and the physical.” Using video, animation, mobile apps, and now augmented reality, Rosenthal creates interactive advertising campaigns for brands ranging from H&M and Yahoo to Esquire magazine and shoe company Airwalk. Some of her projects seem like conceptual art, some like high-tech marketing. But at heart, they’re architecture, she asserts. “What is architecture? It’s about crafting experiences.”


Credentials: After Rosenthal graduated from Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation in 2001, she and classmate Jesse Seppi founded Tronic, a technology and design firm. One recent project: Manifold, a 60-foot sculpture at HP’s Palo Alto headquarters. One side of the piece is made of undulating fiberglass shapes; the other houses a series of identical high-definition video panels. As people pass by, motion sensors set the sculpture rotating from one surface to the other.

Second act: In November 2010, Rosenthal started her new company, GoldRun. Its software platform and iPhone app provide the tools to exploit augmented reality for commercial purposes. GoldRun’s Android app will debut this spring.

Quick start: GoldRun launched with H&M as its first client, creating a virtual extension of the Swedish fashion retailer’s 10 Manhattan locations. Users could download the GoldRun app for smartphones before visiting one of the stores. There, they could point their iPhones at the display windows and, in their viewfinder, see virtual representations of garments and dresses. If one woman, say, snapped a photo of a dress and then pointed the viewfinder at a nearby friend, she’d see her pal “trying on” the clothing. The app’s GPS sensors confirmed people’s locations and sent coupons for 10% off H&M purchases to anyone who snapped a photo.

What’s in a name? GoldRun is a play on “gold rush” — the act of “looking for something and realizing there might be more to the idea than we first thought,” Rosenthal says — and “running around town,” a modern version of hunting and gathering. If this sounds like the name of a James Bond film, that’s the point. Rosenthal hopes to make shopping more exciting by creating alternative realities.

Growing up artsy: Rosenthal grew up in New York’s Greenwich Village. Her mother still volunteers as a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she credits her parents’ love of art, contemporary dance, and music with helping to form her taste.

Favorite book: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Focal point: In her apartment in Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood, where she lives with her husband, Sebastien Agneessens, a French-born advertising executive and art-gallery owner, the living-room walls are a deep charcoal and the L-shaped sofa is black. But there’s also a bright red statue sitting on a bookshelf. “I love objects, books, sculptures — things that have a high sense of craft,” says Rosenthal.

Role model: Advertising and art-world potentate Charles Saatchi. “He has been successful with two seemingly disparate pursuits, advertising and art. And of course, they’re not that disparate after all.”

Fear of flying: Airplanes make her anxious. Her solution: She watches heart-racing action movies during nerve-wracking flights. “You’d think I’d need to watch a calm and happy movie. But when watching a thriller, I’m more accepting of things being off-kilter.”

The work-play balance: Rosenthal recently jetted off to Jamaica for some R&R — though one of the Rs stood for “recording studio.” Her husband, who is also a singer performing under the pseudonym Seb Leon, was recording an album at Geejam Studio. Rosenthal has cowritten songs with him.

Anti-social networking: “I’m slightly archaic,” Rosenthal says, though she has built two distinct businesses using technology. She says she’d rather make a sculpture or an animated movie than spend hours on Twitter or Facebook.

The new black: The one ritual Rosenthal performs almost every morning? Choosing which black outfit to wear. Black, she says, is her signature color.