Cannes Lions

Breaking Barriers


Case Film
Presentation Image
Presentation Image






Since its inception 70 years ago, ADP has been viewed as a conservative HR and payroll brand that a majority of people simply equate with the logo on their paycheck. Responding to the rapid changes in their industry and in culture overall, the company is embarking on a journey of transformation with a clear goal of changing the notion of what an HR company can stand for, how it should behave, and the role it can play in people’s lives. The ultimate objective was to reposition ADP as a dynamic, tech-driven company that is designing the tools that will bring about ‘a better way to work.’ In order to prove this new ambition, ADP needed to create a memorable launch moment to announce their evolved intent and purpose—so we suggested the grand and influential stage that is SXSW.


The key insight for this activation is that there are many systemic workplace barriers that get in the way of doing great work, e.g., antiquated work systems/arcane technology, lack of work/life balance, gender discrimination, etc. The creative idea was first to create compelling physical manifestations of those barriers (both literal and metaphorical), and follow that up by giving participants the tools to remove—or more accurately joyfully obliterate them. We chose to bring the idea to life at SXSW, a festival that lies squarely at the intersection of culture and technology, breaking ADP out of their traditional Human Resources/B2B bubble, while announcing their new brand purpose of clearing the way for ‘a better way to work’ in a fresh and unexpected manner.


Because ADP believes we’re all working for something bigger than a paycheck, the innovation-minded, purpose-driven crowd at SXSW was the perfect group to interact with. Upon entry, each participant was asked, “What are you #WorkingFor?” and prompted to select a workplace barrier standing in their way—e.g., Glass Ceiling, Pay Gap, Lack of Work/Life Balance, or Outdated Technology—which they then smashed to pieces. Over the course of three days we collected hundreds of answers, which became a fascinating cross-section of people’s higher-order purpose.

“I'm #workingfor a system that rewards creators” – @tjchambersLA

“I'm #workingfor diverse voices in tech and journalism” – @dainalexevans

“I’m #workingfor my baby I just found out I'm going to have in 8 months! :)” – @futurejcpennymodel

Responses were used in ADP’s marketing communication (both online and on digital out-of-home screens across the nation), as well as their internal product research and development.


The execution was curated havoc. Over three days, participants got the cathartic satisfaction of physically ‘breaking barriers’ by smashing objects that symbolized obstacles that get in the way of doing great work. The activation began with a mini-questionnaire to find out what barrier participants wanted to overcome:

Barrier: What You Break:

- Lack of Advancement - Glass Ceiling

- Pay Gap - Piggy Banks

- Work/Life Balance - Wall of Clocks

- Outdated Work Systems - Fax Machines & Old Computers

Then guests suited up in protective gear, selected their tool (e.g., sledgehammer, baseball bat, crowbar, etc.), and entered 1 of 4 ‘Break Rooms’ to clobber the barrier of their choice to pieces. Beyond the exhilarating physical experience, guests walked away with a sharable slow-mo video of themselves in action. The event was carefully designed with everything from custom atmosphere in each room to signature cocktails (e.g., the SX Smash).


The goal was to help transform ADP from a 'stuffy old HR company' to a 'cool forward-thinking brand' that cares about people. We did so in a way that shattered preconceived notions of how HR can behave, and stole the show with the highly influential and famously hard-to-please SXSW crowd. It all added up to a bold new chapter in ADP’s brand story of clearing the way for ‘a better way to work.’

260 Glass Ceilings Shattered; 255 Clocks Smashed; 230 Fax Machines Obliterated; 193 Piggy Banks Bashed; 1,594 Videos Shared; Over 200 Million Impressions; Covered by national and international media outlets; Stock price increased 9.68% since event (an important barometer for any B2B company)

“Smash the Patriarchy and Other Workplace Problems at SXSW” – NBC

“ADP’s Exhilarating SXSW Experience Let Attendees Literally Shatter the Glass Ceiling” – AdWeek

“One of the Craziest Activations at SXSW” – Entrepreneur

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