9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Brands and Consumption Building II, C5.02

Bank Lounges. A Case Of Brand Materialization

The post-industrial era, characterized by the growth of knowledge-based, services-oriented industries, is marked by the trend toward weightless-ness (Rifkin 2000, 47). Banking is often cited as an example for the accelerating virtuality across entire industries (Callon 1998). In recent years banks across the world have been trimming down ?real assets? such as branches, instead growing a network of mobile portals and urging customers to carry on all transactions virtually (Knights, Noble and Vurdubakis 2007; Singh 2004). In our study, we find an intriguing (post-)development that seemingly contradicts this trend?some banks appear to proliferate auxiliary services, such as airport lounges, through which they seek to (re)establish physical ties with some customers. As banks divest direct ?real assets,? making their core business increasingly virtual, they seek to solidify their brand identities in diverse material forms (Miller 2005).
A particularly interesting case is that of bank lounges located at airports, spaces typified as postmodern ?non-places? fostering a sense of timelessness, placenessness and mobility (Augé 1995). These customer-only lounges offer amenities at no/minimal cost; moreover, they re-present a physical space in which a virtual bank along with its brand promise can, if momentarily, be materialized. We use Garanti bank lounges in Istanbul and Ankara airports as a case. We collected data through ethnographic observations, interviews with managers and documentary research.
We find that in a material and experiential way, Garanti lounges present, communicate, and enhance the brand identity. In particular, the brand?s ethos of mobility and stability is translated in and enacted through the lounges? positioning in airports, living-room-like design and home-like services. Overall, we suggest that materialization acts as attempts to install some order to the uncertainty and disorder engendered by virtuality and mobility. By putting physical boundaries and by presenting the intrinsically ambiguous socio-cultural meanings in the manifold material forms, banks seek to make their brand identities intelligible and accessible to customers.