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Interview: Dave Birss Feeds the Digital Sharks
15 Sep 2010 :
David Birss
The 2010 Kinsale Shark Awards will take place this year on the 17th and 18th of September. This year the award categories will include four new Digital categories, namely: Digital Channel, Digital Craft, Digital Fresh Thinking and Digital Worldwinner. Dave Birss has come up with the new categories and will judge the respective submissions, IFTN spoke about the challenges that this task posed.

Dave Birss has worked as a copywriter and art director since 1993. The last few years saw him embrace the digital world in his role as Digital Creative chief at UK direct and interactive marketing agency OgilvyOne. His most recent work has included creating and judging the Kinsale Shark’s first ever digital awards. IFTN spoke with him about his dislike of most other digital award categories, his take on the relationship between the digital and creative world and the quality of entries for the new awards at this year’s festival.

IFTN: Why have the Kinsale Sharks decided this year to include a digital section in their awards?

Dave Birss: “I think the pressure has grown so much that there’s no way of avoiding it. I think, particularly in the next couple of years when TV develops to be far more part of the internet, there actually won’t be that separation between television and the net. Certainly this will be the case before the end of the year when Google bring out their Google TV and in the UK we’ll have Sky’s Canvas. So there’s far more interaction going to be happening on television and therefore far more customisation - it’s far more web-like. And obviously television is on the web too now so it doesn’t make sense for the categories not to be there anymore.”

IFTN: You’ve been quite vocal in your disdain towards Digital categories at most other festivals – where do they fall down?

Dave Birss: “The digital section of most award shows has very much been seen primarily as a film advertising award with some print and poster in there as well.  I think it’s completely misunderstood.

“For me, the way it’s been done in other festivals is that they’ve basically copied a way of doing it that has been done in the past. So they’ve taken traditional advertising awards like Best in Television, Best Radio, Best Press, Best Poster etc. but, when it comes to online stuff, that doesn’t make sense because its actually how things work together. It’s the strength of the idea and how that idea lives throughout a number of channels both online and offline.”

IFTN: Which leads us to your categories for the Sharks. Firstly: Digital Craft?

Dave Birss: “This is something that I think has been hugely neglected and its something not just neglected in awards but neglected in the industry.

There’s an attitude about that thinks digital is really cheap because you can get stuff done really fast - and you can get a website up quite cheaply.

“As a result people were forgetting about the craft and there was concentration on technology. I’m a huge lover of technology but not when it gets in the road of an idea and not when people concentrate on technology and think that the technology is an idea.

“So I have a lot of battles within the industry where I’m telling people ‘Forget the technology, it’s not about the technology, it’s about the user’. It’s about the people, it’s about our audience and if our audience don’t come first, we’ve lost them.”

IFTN: I would imagine the Fresh Thinking category invited in some interesting submissions?

Dave Birss: “Yes! There was some interesting stuff in fresh thinking. Of all of the  entries we’ve gotten in so far the ones that excited me most were the ones that didn’t fit comfortably in any category, which is one of the reasons why we started the ‘What the f*ck?’ award for the stuff that just does not fit anywhere else.”

IFTN: The ‘What the F*ck?’ category award doesn’t seem to have made it to the Kinsale Sharks website – can you explain it a bit more?

Dave Birss: “It’s difficult - I recently talked to someone in a big organisation who was saying how they had merged together two departments as a way of cutting costs. And they’d merged marketing and sales because they thought the whole point of both of them was to sell more but I told him they should have merged marketing and products.

“That’s the interesting part, when marketing stops being just advertising and your marketing is built into a product. The product itself is an interesting way of creating engagement and shareability and talkability. This is the area that excites me most - product development and marketing and that area in the middle there. That’s the stuff that’s made it into the What the F*ck? category.

“You can look at stuff that’s won big awards in the past like the campaign for Nike plus. That is a product that actually won a marketing award and there were also advertising awards it was winning stuff in. Some of the stuff in here does sit at that boundary between product development and marketing and that’s one of the places I’m very interested in.”

IFTN: And the last of the new categories – the intriguingly named Digital Worldwinners?

Dave Birss:The entries that we got in there are so broad that you’re getting some stuff that could be a film up against some digital poster execution which was, in turn, up against some banner ads that communicate with each other. And when you’ve got something like that, it’s very difficult to compare these things because they’re doing such different jobs.

“They’re engaging in such different ways that I suppose this was the category where you just look for some form of excellence, something that gives you a tingle up the back of your neck when you look at it. I look at some of these entries and go “Shit, I wish I’d done that” and that very much is the essence of the category.”

IFTN: Have there been any glitches with the new categories?

Dave Birss:“We can only really tell when we’re all together doing the judging and discussing it. And then I’ll go away and have a think about it and see if there are any tweaks we can make. I’m really about seeing what results we get when it comes to agreeing on stuff, I want to see how the other judges respond to it when we’re in the room, I want to see what rises to the surface and I want to see people’s reaction to it afterwards. So that’s going to be my measure of success for these categories - because I don’t want to make a complete arse of myself!”

IFTN: How has the quality of entries been for the various categories?

Dave Birss: “With awards there’s always material that you look at and say to yourself, “Why did people enter this?” but, on the other hand then, there’s also material that you see which makes you wonder, “How did they come up with that?”

“Certainly there are a number of interesting concepts - the uniqueness of using new technology and the way that people are breaking out of marketing channels for example. And then there’s other things in there too - looking at some of these things here, just looking at the craft - wow! The craft is just beautiful and I’m gobsmacked at the effort and the love that’s gone into these things. That’s what makes me really happy.”

IFTN: Have you been to the Kinsale Sharks before?

Dave Birss: No I haven’t. I’m a total festival virgin.

IFTN: So what are you hoping to get from it?

Dave Birss:I’m starting up a podcast at the moment as well on the future of advertising and marketing so I’m hoping to interview some of the stars of the industry while I’m in Kinsale.

“There’s so many people that I’m excited to be meeting and then there’s friends that I’ve known from the industry as well that I’d like to meet there. One of my fellow judges is one of the creative directors of Dare in London, Dan Harrison, so I always love hanging out with him. It’s just going to be great being there and soaking up the atmosphere, so I’m excited.”

  • The Kinsale Sharks are now into their 48th year. This year also sees the introduction of an Honourary President system – this year’s being Sir John Hegarty. The advertising heavyweight will speak at the event alongside friends and fellow ad execs Billy Mawhinney and Max Forsythe. Tanya Cawley, festival manager of the Kinsale Sharks tells IFTN that an honorary president will be chosen for the festival every year.

  • The 2010 jury chairman is Beattie McGuinness Bungay’s Trevor Beattie and Dave’s fellow jurors include Dare’s associate creative head, Dan Harrison; Pater Waibel, the founder and creative director of Jung von Matt/ Neckar; Sky TV’s creative director Ross Dwyer; Jenna Charlebois, channel manager for the Disney channel; Irish director of 'Your Good Self, John Butler and Senior creative director of Chellomedia, Dean Stockton.

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