The Power of “Why”

In today’s fast paced society, we are bombarded with advertisements all trying to influence where we go, what we buy, what events we attend, etc. This is especially true for students at Rutgers who can’t walk more than five steps without being asked to sign something or join some club or attend the next big event. At RU, students are constantly presented with a whole host of opportunities and yet only follow through with a handful of them. Sure, things like time and personal interest influence what events we attend and how we involve ourselves on campus, but I think there’s more to it. Simon Sinek gave a Ted Talk regarding the “Golden Circle” and the idea of “Starting with Why.” In the Ted Talk one of Sinek’s take home points was that “people don’t by what you do. They buy why you do it.” Sinek challenges all of us to stop telling people what we do and how we do things and focus on why we do them. By getting to the “why” first, organizations are more likely to draw people in and keep people around when time and personal interest aren’t enough.

It is easy to explain “why” in person. Conversation allows for the expression of emotion and passion. Print advertisements on the other hand have only a few seconds to catch your eye and make a statement and it appears that the “why” often gets lost in translation. Let’s examine three advertisements from this week’s Daily Targum and see how they stack up to Sinek’s Golden Circle and where the “why” lies.

responsible drinking
This first ad is for “Responsible Drinking Happy Hour.” From the ad I can very clearly see the “what.” This ad is for a happy hour that serves 1 drink per hour from 4-7 PM in the Cook Campus Center. That about ends what can be taken from this advertisement. There is no “how” and there isn’t much of a “why.” As an active member of the campus community I happen to know that Deans from the University serve the drinks to students at this happy hour and often engage them in conversations in order to get to know some of the students on campus that they might not otherwise meet. I also happen to know that the program is meant to promote safe drinking habits not only for college, but for life afterwards and was started as a response to binge drinking that tends to happen on weekends not only on this campus, but on campuses across the country. These positive intentions seem to be lost in the promotion. Though the word “responsible” hints at the purpose of the happy hour, it does not drive home why it is an important event or the event’s mission. At no point did I get the sense that this event existed to promote bringing a community together in a safe environment.


This next advertisement is for a general interest meeting and alcohol awareness meeting for the Off Campus Student Association. Unlike the first advertisement, I feel that this addresses the “why” much more clearly than the first ad. “Why” is addressed in the statement “all college students, commuters or not, should understand the severities of alcohol abuse.” It is very clear and to the point. This statement says to me, “you should come to this event because this is important information that you should have.” Though it doesn’t address why the organization cares about this particular cause, it does explain why the event is happening in the first place, which may provide more motivation for people reading the ad to actually attend. Despite the fact that the “why” is addressed, I still feel that it is subordinate to the “what.” The “why” is in small print in the last sentence of a box on the bottom of the ad, so had I not been intentionally looking at ads in the Targum, there is a chance that I would have missed it.


The last advertisement that I want to look at is the Relay for Life ad. I think that this ad displays its “why” the most prominently and in the simplest terms. “Combat Cancer.” It really is that simple. Why should you support Relay for Life? To combat cancer. It is in big letters at the top of the ad where the whole world can see it and it gets your attention. Only after deciding that you already like the cause do you read on to find out that there are great activities occurring at the Relay for Life. Honestly, those activities don’t much matter because people are already hooked on the idea of “combating cancer.” The fact that both the “what” and the “how” (both also clearly displayed in the advertisement) come second to the “why” makes this ad more appealing, the cause more likable, and my likelihood of getting involved, or at least looking into involvement, exponentially higher.

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