ADP’s New Brand Identity Is Less About Paper Pushing and More About What Motivates Us to Work

A slew of new visual assets and a new campaign debuted today

A grab from one of ADP's new print ads (full version below) shows the influence of AI. All images courtesy of ADP

The average working stiff might not be able to tell you what ADP does, but there’s a decent chance the company affects him in a very important way—namely, it gets him his paycheck.

In fact, ADP (which stands for Automatic Data Processing) pays about 40 million workers worldwide, and one in 6 of us in the U.S. It also provides an entire suite of services in the field of HCM (Human Capital Management), including 401(K) and health insurance administration.

But in recent weeks, and with a creative assist from Havas New York, ADP has been preparing to send a new, broader message—this one concerning the meaning of work and the future of the workplace itself. Harbingers of that initiative were on view two weeks ago at South by Southwest. Attendees to the Austin, Texas, tech and culture colloquium were given the chance to smash a piggy bank (a symbolic act of protesting wage inequality), break a glass ceiling and generally destroy a number of objects commonly associated with the confines of traditional office life. The fact that an HR services company would even care about such issues was a signal that ADP is broadening its brand and its image.

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Video: Dianna McDougall

As of this morning, the general public will get to see what that broadening looks like. In conjunction with debuting an updated brand identity, the company is also launching a new campaign for TV, print and radio that asks a pretty loaded question: “What are you working for?”

That forms the foundation of other marketing components previously released, including a company “manifesto” that ran in major newspapers and digital out-of-home installations in places like Penn Station in New York.

“Most companies will recognize ADP for our core business around payroll, but we believe that work is about more than getting paid,” CMO Lorraine Barber-Miller told Adweek. “That’s why we [adopted the question]. What are you working for? What is your ambition? What’s behind why you wake up and go to work?”

It’s a good bet that America’s jaded cubicle drones would simply respond, “the mortgage” or “the car payment.” But ADP is evidently serious about engendering introspection about what work means to people and the deeper reasons we do it. As its manifesto sets forth, work is “about achieving something greater”—greater, in other words, than just a paycheck.

To support that message, ADP’s new TV spot features the owners and employees of some of its actual client companies talking about what motivates them to go to work. Examples include a strapping man named Stefan, who runs Tabacso’s mash warehouse, and says, “I’m working to keep the fire going for another 150 years.” Or Valerie, a L’Occitane boutique manager, who tell us that she’s “working for beauty that begins with nature.”

The broader question here, of course, is why would a HR solutions firm concern itself with these existential questions? Well, for one thing, a brand redefinition was overdue. ADP turned 70 this year and, to hear Barber-Miller tell it, a company exercise in self-reflection led to ADP’s own leadership asking what they themselves were working for. “Really, that’s how the entire brand platform and campaign was born,” she said.

Perhaps more to the point, ADP is in the process of evolving from a strictly business-to-business brand to what the CMO calls a “b-to-b-to-c” brand. The shift comes in the wake of recent ADP acquisitions such as its 2017 purchase of Global Cash Card, which allowed the company to offer its Wisely Pay card and put the brand in a more consumer-facing position.

Barber-Miller demurred over the specifics of how a company best known for payroll processing will fulfill its manifesto to “design a better way to work.”

“The campaign is agenda-setting at a high level, to start a new conversation,” she said. “But as it unfolds over the next several months, we’ll get into the solutions and product portfolio to translate how we’re helping the changing world of work. The technologies we’re offering to help people work better or different. That will come. Right now, what you see is the agenda-setting [side] of the conversation.”

Meanwhile, the company has also rolled out a new visual identity with a few surprises. For starters, there’s a new tagline below the familiar block-cap ADP logo that reads, “Always Designing for People.”

So does ADP now stand for “Always Designing for People”? Well, no. ADP still stands for Automatic Data Processing and, in fact, the CMO insists the lineup of the initials was pure coincidence. “We have not changed our legal name—it’s a … new tagline,” she said. “It just kind of happened. We determined we’re always designing for people.” (For some, the move may call to mind BP’s decision a decade ago to stop being British Petroleum in favor of Beyond Petroleum, but ADP doesn’t have the PR baggage or consumer cynicism that encumbered that energy giant.)

ADP is also debuting a new typeface—Taub Type after late founder Henry Taub—but most visible in the new brand identity are the multicolored dots and squiggles that now accent the white space around the logo meant to represent the role of data. Departing from the usual conservative blues of the finance realm, the visual elements are also fresher, even playful and the result of artificial intelligence having been plugged into the process, according to Havas New York CCO Harry Bernstein.

“Beyond just a new color palette and a fluid grid system, we leveraged AI and data visualization to create a system that is not rigid but organic and unique,” he said, “taking on limitless forms in a way that’s personal—just like the many ways people work and the reasons why.”

The contours of ADP’s new identity and positioning should become clearer as the campaign evolves, though the company is clearly committed to being about more than essential HR services. The future of the workplace is changing, Barber-Miller said, and ADP is determined to be a bigger part of whatever it becomes.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.