The Watch Tower Society has set up a “store” in Rouen, France – not far from the French Bethel – aimed at promoting its official website, JW.org.
The store is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and is the next phase of Watchtower’s “Manhattan Project” – which so far has seen bookstands with Society literature pop up on sidewalks in major cities.
This new store is understood to have been financed by the French Bethel, but if successful in attracting new converts, it could be rolled out globally.
In addition to a web article featuring photos of the store being posted anonymously online, a video has been uploaded to YouTube featuring images of the store set to music from the Society’s Kingdom Melodies.
The interior of the store is reminiscent of “Ideal Organizations” of Scientology, which also feature a welcoming front desk and an abundance of literature aimed at promoting the religion to those who stop by. Here, for comparison, is a video of the German “Ideal Org” with its “Public Information Center” (skip to 0:45 for the relevant part)….
Watchtower is therefore following down a well-trodden path in pursuing this new venture. As publisher numbers stagnate and the organization downsizes, it makes sense to adopt a more commercial approach (already successfully used by smaller religions such as Scientology) and entice members of the public through sleek and welcoming interiors that give no immediate hint to the more bizarre or troubling elements of the religion, such as shunning.
Of course, there is one notable difference between the “Ideal Orgs” of Scientology and this new JW.org store, and this lies in the branding. When you approach an Ideal Org, it is clear from the exterior signage that you are entering a building connected with Scientology. Watchtower, however, is adopting a more insidious approach by hiding behind the URL “www.jw.org” rather than emblazoning the front with the name “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” One has to ask, if Jehovah’s Witnesses are so proud of bearing the divine name, then why aren’t they using it openly on the front of this store?
And then there is the fact that the interior is laid out in a manner that implies that it is selling something. It certainly is selling something, but what? None of the computers will be for sale – they will be merely for accessing JW.org and no other JW-related websites, certainly not this one! It can hardly, therefore, be some kind of web cafe.
What the store is actually selling is allegiance to the Governing Body. Smiling representatives will give answers to questions and, eventually, you will receive a feeling of purpose and uniformity once you join. In return, Watchtower gets new publishers who can donate money to assist in defraying its operating expenses, which include defending the organization against costly child abuse lawsuits. In my view, just as with any retail business, it will ultimately be the seller who benefits more.
To read my analysis of the content of the JW.org website, please click here.