The medication is called Cold-FX; the tagline is ‘Rich Dad’s Cold Remedy’; the visual shows, against a wood panel background, a photo of a father and son in a tacky gilt frame next to a silver platter holding a crystal glass of water, an old pocket watch and three pills; a separate picture at the bottom shows the packaging, while the small print blathers about successful people, quality, blazers and ties before telling us we are talking about some quack ginseng nonsense.*
The slogan is presumably an allusion to the Rich Dad, Poor Dad get-rich-quickish books, games and motivational lectures. At first glance, it promises a bit of tongue-in-cheek parody, but then… For a claimed immune system booster? By a Hong Kong ad agency? In the South China Morning Post? No. The creative genius concerned seems to believe his target audience is one that takes the Rich Dad concept seriously – which, since this essentially means the gullible, perhaps makes sense.
The main premise seems to be that prosperous, old-money westerners – generations of them, indeed – gobble these miracle cures, therefore they will work for you, too. Perhaps we are also supposed to think that if we use these pills, we will become affluent and surrounded with antique timepieces and furnishings. Or maybe we are invited to believe that if we flash our bright pink plastic bottle of Cold-FX on the MTR, desirable passengers of the opposite sex will assume we already are, and will want to breed with us. The ad agency probably wanted to cover every angle.
If the portrait of the implicitly moneyed father with son looks familiar, it’s because the highly original admen lifted the idea from the Philippe Patek luxury watch campaign, which goes back years.
In its early version – back in the more raffish 90s – the father was a cooler-looking, jet-setting sort of guy eager to give his little boy a thrill. We knew he was loaded because he had a speedboat, with a steering wheel at an angle that displays your shiny, pricy watch to great effect. But how did he get rich? Coke dealer would be my guess. His wife was awarded custody, but he had the kid snatched and flown out to his Caribbean hangout.
The current father-and-son pairs are altogether more understated. One (on the left) has a warm, approachable demeanour. The dad made millions selling toxic mortgage-backed derivative securities before having a crisis of conscience; he now pesters wealthy friends for donations to his charity, which collects books for schools in Nepal. The boy used to get bullied a lot at boarding school but has recently become more confident and wants to get into theatre set design.
The other pair is decidedly less cuddly. The father started off burning buildings down so owners could claim insurance, before becoming the biggest slum landlord in his city with interests in various entertainment outlets. His sullen offspring used to pay bigger boys to beat up the kid on the left and recently got the family’s young Salvadoran maid pregnant.
You never actually own a plastic bottle of Cold-FX, you merely look after it for the next generation.
* “If it does have any effect at all at preventing colds, the effect is very, very modest.” Others are less sure. I say: if it really works, why do they need such desperate and dismal marketing?