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By Ellen Ormesher | Senior Reporter

December 4, 2023 | 7 min read

The founders of The Utopia Bureau tell The Drum how they went from working for Turkish Airlines to joining Extinction Rebellion. Now, they’re recruiting world-famous comedians, including Nish Kumar and Jo Brand, to bring humor to their climate messaging.

With an impressive CV between them, the duo formerly known as ‘Benrik’ – that’s Ben Carey and Henrik Delehag – had the creative industry at their feet.

Stints as creative directors at Crispin Porter + Bogusky (where they worked on Turkish Airlines), freelance gigs at R/GA, Anomaly, Wieden+Kennedy and Uncommon might be the stuff of dreams for advertising fledglings, but as Carey explains to The Drum: “We became aware of what was happening to the planet. Working on Turkish Airlines in particular, we were back and forth to Istanbul every other week for two years.

“We just started wondering what we were doing and, gradually, as we started to focus on the climate crisis, we decided to devote ourselves to it full-time.”

Delehag adds: “We got to the point where we realized our talents could be much better used elsewhere and we saw an urgent need to create better communication around the issue of climate change.”

The pair set up The Utopia Bureau, a climate communications lab, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Initially focusing on the political division rife during that period, the project soon centered on climate change. “We started thinking about what the world would look like in 1,000 years and realized there’s not going to be a world in 1,000 years if we don’t address the climate emergency,” says Carey.

The duo joined Extinction Rebellion (XR) early on, he adds (“not that you have a membership card”), and helped it run some of its initial campaigns, whistle-blowing websites and protest actions. “We had to be on the front line of these campaigns to really understand how they work. You have to understand the political landscape. If you put a foot wrong, you’ll have Greta and a thousand other people on your case, so you have to be part of the world to get the tone right.”

Delehag agrees, adding: “There’s a screaming need to communicate in a different way on this issue, but you have to take initiative. It’s a whole different way of working to traditional advertising.”

The duo ponders whether this is behind much of the industry’s apathy on climate change – or at least their reticence to leave their most high-carbon clients behind. “People don’t want to lose their jobs, obviously,” says Carey, “but I think we’re seeing an unstoppable shift in social norms, which is what we’re trying to precipitate. Pretty soon, we’ll get to a point where working for these people is completely unacceptable, so it won’t even be a question. It will be unthinkable.”

“We saw it with tobacco,” Delehag points out. “We got to the point where creators would refuse to work on those clients and we do hear of an increasing amount of creatives refusing to work on certain clients now. It’s a question of when it reaches a critical mass and becomes completely unacceptable.”

These frustrations were recently channeled into the pair’s work with the climate collective Glimpse and comedian Oli Frost, where they created a fake agency named Atmospheric and called out McCann over its intention to repitch for Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest fossil fuel company.

But while that campaign was heavily targeted at the industry itself, now they want to target the general public in order to rouse them into action.

“We talk to people who are still in the frame of mind where they think it’s all about sorting their rubbish into the right bins,” says Delehag. “There’s a lot of education that needs to happen and that has to come in new, fun and interesting ways to get people involved.”

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Their latest project, Climate Science Translated, is a unique one, aimed at translating complex climate science into accessible, humorous content with the aim of spurring millions of Brits into climate action by pairing comedians with climate scientists for some frank conversations.

So far, household names like Nish Kumar, Kiri Pritchard-McLean, Jonathan Pie and Jo Brand have joined the ranks, with studies showing that this comedic approach significantly enhances public understanding of climate issues, proving that humor can be an effective tool in science communication.

Research has shown the videos are working, with 87.5% of people saying the videos made them want to act on climate change. “You’re not going to listen to a lecture,” says Carey, “but you might listen to a comedian that makes you laugh.”

In the latest video, featuring Jo Brand alongside Professor Mark Maslin, the comedian makes quips about climate change like: “We’re still going to hell but we’re getting there faster” and “We are paying a bunch of rich dudes one trillion dollars a year to fuck up our future.”

“If a scientist were to say that, it might undermine their scientific argument, but we believe the combination is a success,” says Delehag.

The duo are keen to share the videos as widely as possible on social media to bring their message to the public. Their big ambition is to take the project to the States next year: “It’s a whole different kettle of fish there politically,” says Delehag.

But for now, they’re setting their sights on securing comedian Frankie Boyle for the next video “...because he swears on an artistic level.”

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