If you’ve watched even an hour of TV in Pittsburgh, a stealthy earworm has likely crept into your brain. Even if you moved away and haven’t heard this tune in years, it’s likely you can still recite the siren song luring unsuspecting Pittsburghers to West Mifflin.
Century III Chevrolet.
Lebanon Church Road,
Minutes from the mall!
The car dealership ad has been a fixture on local television for nearly three decades, but recently the internet noticed that last line — the chipper “minutes from the mall!” — had vanished, perhaps because of the well-publicized woes of Century III Mall.
But it turns out, the phrase was removed four years ago, the dealership said.
So what’s the story behind the jingle? What makes a simple tune so successful? And what other Pittsburgh jingles stand out?
It turns out, the jingle is a lesson in art, science, and psychology.
Minutes from the mall!
First, let’s dig deeper into the iconic Century III Chevrolet ad.
It dates back “25 years — maybe longer,” said Rich Ward, 34, dealership general manager and co-owner.
An advertising agency created the jingle and wrote the lyrics. Other than removing “minutes from the mall!” when it “became less of a landmark,” the song hasn’t changed since the beginning, Ward said.
“A lot of companies think a jingle works to stick in people’s head — and it works,” he said.
But there’s some unsettling news to break here: The tune isn’t unique to Pittsburgh.
“Somebody national wrote that and licensed that to different retailers in different cities,” said Jay Green, owner of the Downtown-based Big Science Music.
It worked like this: A company would share its basic info (address, product info, etc.), and the ad agency would recycle the tune with new lyrics.
Pittsburgh Twitter figured this out last week, and it put everybody in a tizzy. But, let’s be honest, these clunky imposter ads can’t match Pittsburgh’s.
How do jingles work?
Basically, companies are trying to get into your head.
“What marketers are trying to do with jingles is create a cue in the consumers’ minds, this connection between their brand and something that’s fun and happy and brings the brand and the purchase decision to mind,” according to Nicole Coleman, assistant professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh.
This type of out-of-school learning is what Coleman describes as “incidental” education.
“We’re not siting down and studying advertisements and trying to incorporate brands’ messages into our longterm memory,” she said.
But yet … there they are lodged into our brains along with the Pythagorean theorem and the first 10 numbers of Pi. So when a person thinks about buying a car, the mental connection activates and brings Century III Chevrolet, for example, to mind.
Indeed, Green said, he can recall jingles back to his childhood.
The Braddock native started out as a rock musician and now writes lyrics and music for commercials. Though jingles have had their bouts with becoming passé, he said they’re back with a new spin, but the Pittsburgh market is slow to embrace the trend.
“The jingle is back as long as it’s a little cheeky, kitschy or self-deprecating,” Green said. “They’re a little over-the-top, campy, funny. I hope more of that comes back.”
He loves writing jingles because it’s a way to play with melody, song structure, and emotion.
“It’s really psychology and understanding those sorts of triggers — different things that people key on,” he said.
Jingles are most effective when they’re upbeat and consistent. And, yes, that means repeating the same pitch for three decades.
“As marketers, we have to repeat it over and over again to build that connection because consumers aren’t trying to learn it,” Coleman explained.
There’s an extra bonus when a jingle sparks some emotion, she added.
So, in that spirit, let’s cue up some nostalgia.
Pittsburgh’s iconic jingles
First, it’s worth noting that this is not a comprehensive list.
For example, we sadly couldn’t find YouTube clips of the soothing “Get to know Molyneaux” ad or the crooning “California University of Pennsylvania, where it’s all about youuuu” TV spot or the grating “West Hills Nissan, top of the runway, Moon Township call Two-Six-Two Ninety Twenty; THAT’S TWO-SIX-TWO NINETY TWENTYYYYYYYY” promo. (If you find them or have more to add, email us here).
Some of these selections veer into song territory and others, well, let’s just say there’s a yeehaw.
“Alcoa can’t wait!”
Dating back to 1977, this orchestral jingle focuses on innovation and sustainability. Green said it was written by Jim Sutton, the “Grandfather” of Pittsburgh jingles, whom he counts as an inspiration.
“That’s the power of Bowser”
Not quite a jingle, but this car dealer’s line of music has the power to get stuck in your head.
“Day Automotive — gonna make your day”
This bluesy line checks all the boxes: It’s brief, upbeat, and clearly states the name of the product.
“It takes a giant to make life simple”
The year: 1997. The scene: A suburban grocery store. The plot: “Chef Dad” reads book with “Gourmet Cooking” written in Microsoft WordArt font on the cover. He takes kids to the store to buy supplies for a birthday surprise for Mom. Wholesome content.
“Ten-Twenty K-D-K-A Pittsburgh”
This vintage radio ad takes us back to a simpler time.
“You and me and the summer makes three”
A full-out song, this chorus will transport you back to your teenage days at Kennywood. Green wrote three different options for Kennywood, but he said this one with it’s “summer reggae sound” was the clear winner.
“Call Mr. Waterheater, call Mr. Waterheater”
Apologies in advance. You’re going to be singing this one for days.
“Feel the love”
Another tune that goes beyond a jingle, this song is the soundtrack for your next Sheetz run. Green is the brains behind this one, too.
It doesn’t fall into the jingle category, but Shults Ford’s iconic “yeehaw” deserves a mention. It’ll either make you want to buy a car or make you want to throw your TV remote at the screen. Either way, it’ll stick in your head — exactly as they intended.
“South Park — Mitsubishi — South Park — Mitsubishi — Drive”
This souped up song wants you to buy a Mitsubishi — VERY intensely.
“Joe said it would”
This WTAE ad is a time machine back to 1994. First, the outfits can’t be ignored — look for shoulder pads and technicolor patterns galore. This jazzy ’90s song promoted meteorologist Joe DeNardo’s accurate weather predictions, and today it serves as a tribute to the late forecaster.