Drug company targets Sacramento in Race for the Arts display

Worker Omar Anthony assembles a display of silhouettes in William Land Park in Sacramento on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016.
Worker Omar Anthony assembles a display of silhouettes in William Land Park in Sacramento on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016. rbenton@sacbee.com

An eye-catching sculptural display installed Friday in Land Park as part of Saturday’s Race for the Arts is not an ordinary piece of art. The first sign? A large list of side effects printed on an element of the exhibit.

Titled “The Tangled Tale,” the 28-foot tall exhibit of human figures on the grass near Land Park Drive was funded by Lundbeck Takeda, a partnership of two international drug companies that sells Trintellix, an antidepressant. It features a white kiosk printed with information about Trintellix, including safety information about using the drug.

Sally Rice, coordinator of Race for the Arts, which benefits local and statewide arts and cultural organizations, said Friday she had no idea that a drug company was behind the exhibit until it was installed. Contacted by a marketing firm in May through email about a sponsorship, she was told the sculpture “aims to increase awareness and open conversation about depression and mental health through art.”

She said Friday she had contacted the New York marketing agency, The Bait Shoppe, to insist that the portion of the exhibit mentioning Trintellix be removed. “I’m really upset that they’re using an innocent family event to promote a pharmaceutical,” she said.

Friday evening, she said Lundbeck Takeda had agreed to move the kiosk behind the sculpture, where it will be less visible. She said the company is also printing a sign saying the Race for the Arts is not affiliated with the drug partnership or endorsing its product.

Rice would not disclose how much Lundbeck Takeda paid for its participation in the event. The Sacramento Bee is also a sponsor.

Ezra Glenn, The Bait Shoppe employee who oversees the traveling exhibit, said its point is to educate people about depression. He said information about the drug was included as a treatment option.

The main part of the display is composed of six standing silhouettes, each with different phrases like “My energy is constantly low” and “I don’t think very highly of myself.” The silhouettes are accompanied by a plaque explaining how those phrases could point to symptoms of depression. A knotted array of metal ribbons included in the exhibit has the words “The Tangled Tale” written at the center.

The display is in its second year and has traveled through several cities across the country, including Indianapolis and Louisville, according to Glenn. Representatives of Lundbeck Takeda are also sent out as part of the exhibit, Glenn said.

Contacted by phone, Ashleigh Duchene, a spokeswoman for the drug partnership, said brochures are handed out to those who want more information about Trintellix, as well as information about talking to a doctor if they want to seek treatment for depression.

“We have information about our product, but we’re not proactive about it,” she said in a subsequent email message. “We are discussing the multiple symptoms of depression and we have information about a treatment option.”

Duchene said the names of both drug companies – Lundbeck of Denmark and Takeda of Japan – were included in correspondence with the race organizers. “We’ve been working hand in hand with the coordinator to secure our spot and be part of the community during the event tomorrow,” she said.

Marketing strategies of this type are not new and are often used by wealthy pharmaceutical companies that have money to spend and are looking to succeed in a competitive market, said Doug Elmets, owner of Sacramento advertising and marketing firm Elmets Communications.

“It’s a classic case of a pharmaceutical company thinking outside the box about educating the public about depression and their particular drug,” he said.

Marycon Razo, spokeswoman for the city of Sacramento, said the city does not regulate the vendors within a permitted event, unless they are selling a product.

“If a vendor is selling something, that’s when they have to have the tax business certificate,” Razo said. “But since they are not selling something, we don’t regulate the type of vendor that an event has.”

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets