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Pongo at 25: Shop’s Creative Flair Draws Clients, Moves Audiences

In the crowded world of creative marketing, standing above the crowd requires a unique artistic approach and insight into the minds of audiences.

Take Pongo. Like all producers of spots, the studio’s mission is to sell the unique merits of the programs being advertised. But over the course of its 25 years in the business, the L.A.-based creative marketing agency has developed its own brash, one-of-a-kind audiovisual signature.

One of the company’s hallmarks is something it likes to call the “Pongo push” — an ever-so-brief pause in the action where the frame does a quick zoom-in.

“It’s a visual moment that grabs your attention,” says Pongo founder, CEO and president Tom McGough. “It takes a breath for a joke, or a beat for a visual reaction onscreen. It’s a way of turning up the heat. It’s in your face.”

But the defining characteristic of their work is more the overall Pongo punch than any single artistic device.

“Our cuts are like an aggressive Phil Spector ‘wall of sound,’” says Cary Sachs, chief marketing officer and senior VP of Pongo, who joined the company in 2005. “It’s the power editing that sets us apart.”

Pongo specializes in slam-bang promos, on-air campaigns, sizzle reels, radio spots and integrated brand marketing campaigns for clients ranging from Disney, ABC and the Game Show Network to Subway, Michelin and Nestle.

Although its 15-person staff works on spots for dramas on occasion, the studio’s true métier is comedy.

“Comedy is the hardest to cut, and the people who do it really well are few and far between, and they’re absolutely one of the best,” says Garen Van de Beek, exec VP and creative director of CBS Marketing Group, a regular client. “They bring a certain kind of frenetic energy to their cuts.”

The style works well with cable channel Disney XD, which has used Pongo on numerous spots over the years, including its recent “Show Me the Monday” campaign.

“We had a company do the original packaging, then Pongo took it to a higher level of fun and randomness that was great,” says Jill Hotchkiss, VP of marketing and creative for Disney XD at Disney ABC Television Group. “Their graphics are unexpected. There are goldfish flying in the air and llamas that appear.”

Given Pongo’s madcap style, it seems appropriate that McGough named the company after the canine patriarch in Disney’s “101 Dalmatians,” a breed of dog renowned for its inexhaustible energy.

But unlike its fictional four-legged counterpart, Pongo’s wild rhythms are carefully plotted – often before the first image is added to the edit.

“I’m laying down a cut right now, and there’s no video,” Sachs says. “It’s just a voiceover and music bites, and that’s it. We’ll know exactly how the story is going to be told, the cadence, how it’s is going to begin and end, just by the audio, without having to even put in a sound bite from the actual show yet.”

In person, New Jersey-born Sachs comes off as more high-energy and Pongo-like, while Connecticut native McGough is more reserved.

“There may be some personality differences, but what we do share is the same goals, the same work ethic and the same passions,” Sachs says. “We agree on the way to run the business. It would be hard to work with somebody for 10 years and to not have a great relationship. To respect one another is huge.”

Going forward, Pongo is looking to expand its graphics business, designing logos and animations for broadcast and digital campaigns.

Lately, “there are a lot of people who use graphics recklessly,” McGough says. “They have to be there for a reason. You can’t get so deep into the graphics in a spot that you forget what you’re selling. We try to have the right amount of graphics that accentuate what we want to accentuate without it being overdone.”

McGough would also like the company to do some select pro bono work for worthy causes such as climate change.

That may sound like a stretch for a company known as a purveyor of wacky comedy, but McGough understands the power of persuasion. “I’ve always thought that we ply our trade in the deepest recesses of the human mind, trying push a button way down in their emotions and get them to react to something we put on the screen,” he says.

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