The advertising industry, often known for its light heartedness, is also a barometer for how society and business views itself. To take the pulse of Hong Kong, The Informer caught up with Spencer Wong, former commercial film director and recently appointed executive creative director of Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) Greater China. How has Sars affected O&M's business? Actually, we are lucky as we have a lot of health-related accounts. In terms of human resources, last month some of our staff were found to live in the same buildings that were infected, so they were quarantined for safety. We had to hire freelancers who worked from home. We used video conferencing and teleconferencing, we tried to get used to it, but it was difficult. For myself, I have a Web camera on my laptop for my wife. She is in Taiwan, so I can't go there because of the quarantine and she can't come here. Are companies changing their advertising to reflect Hong L Kong's sombre Sars mood? I think clients are quite optimistic. They think Sars will be overcome very soon. They think Hong Kong people don't have a long lasting memory. So if the situation settles down, in a few months it will be back to business as usual. Sars is affecting our creative development in terms of the subject matter - for example in healthcare products, we previously thought in terms of problem/solution now we are thinking about balance of life. Before we focused on what is commercial, now it is back to human need. We are trying to simplify the creative message because Hong Kong is looking for simple things; we don't want things to be over-complicated. Have advertisers taken advantage of Sars? A lot of accounts are doing good with message advertising. Some are very good and don't really want to take the credit. Others are very aggressive in linking themselves to the message that they support Hong Kong people in overcoming this situation. How is advertising in Hong Kong generally faring? Sars is a disaster, but it's also been an opportunity for advertising for healthcare, medical, pharmaceutical and home entertainment products. People have been spending more time at home, more time watching television, surfing the Internet and reading newspapers. In the past five years creative people have either gone to big agencies or started their own companies. The Hong Kong economy cannot let all agencies survive, so there is going to be a trend towards mergers. How do you see advertising styles differ between Hong Kong and Southern China? They are totally different. Southern China is different from Northern China, which is different from Shanghai, which is different from cities in central China. In Southern China, advertising is very localised because they have a lot of big local manufacturers, like TCL International Holdings, who is one of the No1 sellers of TVs in the world, but aren't really known outside China. Companies spend a lot on advertising in China and they learn a lot from Hong Kong because people in Guangzhou can see Hong Kong adverts on TV and in magazines, but they only see the outcome, the finished product. They cannot see the strategy behind it and the importance of brand building. Now they are thinking how to raise their brand to the next level. I think we are in a two- to three-year transition. What are the opportunities for advertisers? The market is huge. Culturally we are quite similar compared with other cities in China. Lots of Hong Kong companies have businesses in Guangzhou, but clients sometimes have a hesitation in using local Guangzhou people, they ask us in Hong Kong, or via our office in Guangzhou. They are looking for reliability and quality. On the other side of the coin, people in Guangzhou can come to Hong Kong more easily than before. How should Hong Kong be advertised once the WHO travel advisory is lifted? My personal view is that the most effective way is to be honest. We have to tell people yes, we did have Sars, but we were very transparent about everything, like how many people were infected and government actions. We need to give facts, such as how we have improved the standard of hygiene and how the government is setting up a disease control centre. We need to show that Hong Kong people are unstoppable.