'We are fighting ignorance': Comviq on finding its true purpose

How a Swedish discount brand found a meaningful purpose, by surfacing the values from within the leadership.


Karim is an unlikely frontman for a modern telecommunications company. He is 73 years old, overweight and runs a small kiosk selling tobacco. A surprising choice, but a risk that paid off for Comviq. As through this Iraqi-born anti-hero, they found themselves a charismatic and heartwarming character to tell their bigger brand purpose. In the two year period following his advertising debut, Comviq's brand-liking increased +60%, helping them become the No.1 most loved brand on the Swedish telecoms market. Meanwhile, Karim has become something of a national celebrity.

Karim, real name Tariq Alkhizai is Comviq's unlikely hero.

Karim, real name Tariq Alkhizai is Comviq's unlikely hero.

Comviq are a telecoms company with history as a challenger brand. Since the 1950s, the state-owned Televerket company effectively had a monopoly on the Swedish telecoms industry. A liberalisation of the market in the early 1980s however, saw Comviq (then called Comvik) launch, and founder Jan Stenbeck's was aggressive in his advertising, once famously depicting Televerket as a frightened cat running from the small, but fearless challenger Comviq.

It’s that feisty challenger spirit that Comviq have reconnected with in recent years, despite doing so under parent company Tele2, one of Europe’s largest telecoms providers. Whilst competing on price by offering the cheapest pre-paid card in market, Comviq have a bigger purpose which is to 'Make the World Smaller'. Both enabling and encouraging people from different backgrounds to 'talk more', as a way to better understanding and increased tolerance.

A purpose based on tolerance and open dialogue between nations may seem particularly pertinent during these troubled times in international diplomacy. But for marketing manager Lotta Onajin, a brand's purpose should not originate from external factors in the world, but from inside yourself. Drawing on personal sentiment and values.

It’s about going back to who you are,
then making that real in your business.
— Lotta Onajin

‘Being a challenger is not about faking something or adding something that is interesting at the moment', says Onajin, 'it’s about going back to who you are, and then making that real in your business. It's about making a difference in people's lives in a way that is true to you'.

In bringing this purpose to life, Karim, played by Tariq Alkhizais, has been the central character and ‘Modern Price Fighter’ in Comviq’s communications since 2012. ‘People initially thought I had lost it,’ says Onajin, ‘they questioned whether such a character had the modern attributes to tell our message’. Lotta Onajin was determined to stick with Karim however, insisting he was the man to deliver their purpose and a strong emotional connection with customers.

'Make the World Smaller' outdoor campaign encouraging nations to talk more. Credit: Forsman & Bodenfors.

'Make the World Smaller' outdoor campaign encouraging nations to talk more. Credit: Forsman & Bodenfors.

The commercials tell the story of Karim, a man fleeing war in Iraq for a better life in Sweden. He strikes up an enduring friendship with Krister, a Swedish policeman who makes regular visits to see Karim at his kiosk. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, communication brings them together and they become best friends.

‘The campaign made it clear what our purpose is and what we are fighting against – the ignorance of people to just simply communicate,’ says Onajin, ‘Having that purpose has helped motivate people, but it has also guided our decision-making.’ This decision-making included how Comviq would work with its agency partners in future.

Whereas Comviq once had a conventional 'client/agency' relationship with Forsman & Bodenfors - their agency at the time, which often saw each party sat at opposing sides of a table. Their bigger purpose of 'making the world smaller' helped them re-evaluate that set-up, and instead they created a more open, relaxed and collaborative working method, which improved the relationship as well as the quality of the work.

‘From Baghdad to the Kiosk’, is the pinnacle film from the long running campaign. Telling the true life story of the actor who plays Karim, Tariq Alkhizai, It shows his early childhood in Iraq, his imprisonment for speaking out against Saddam Hussein, and his daring escape to claim asylum in Sweden.

The film delivers on Comviq's purpose of tolerance and open communication and has proved popular. The 7.5 minute version been viewed over 130,000 times on YouTube in nine months, with the 30-second cut gaining just under half a million views in the same period.

‘It’s amazing how this purpose has grown over these years,’ says Onajin, ‘It was there from the start but it took a few years for it truly to make room in the organisation and become clear for everyone’.