The Meow Mix cat-food jingle recently returned to the airwaves, even though most people believed it never went away.

Several months ago, Kelton Research in Culver City conducted a market survey of cat owners for Del Monte Foods in San Francisco, owner of the Meow Mix brand. The survey found that 81 percent of respondents claimed to have heard the Meow Mix jingle in the last 18 months, when, in fact, the song stopped airing 16 years ago.

Tom Bernthal, chief executive at Kelton, noted that some memories are so strong they seem immediately familiar even if a person hasn’t recalled them for years.

“If you are very familiar with something from a long time ago, that can be as powerful as something you are moderately familiar with in the present,” Bernthal said. “In this case, the level of familiarity is off the charts.”

Based on the survey results, Del Monte decided to bring back the Meow Mix jingle in TV ads for its new Tender Centers cat food. The campaign broke March 9 and will run through November.

Sue Resnicoff, director of cat-food marketing at Del Monte, said the survey shows the Meow Mix tune is such a part of popular culture that many people sing it by heart.

“Consumers often break into song when the brand is mentioned,” Resnicoff said. “It’s a fun, iconic piece of our brand history and we’re thrilled to revive it.”

As part of the research project, Bernthal studied many of the most famous advertising jingles of all time including tunes written for Oscar Mayer, Rice-A-Roni and Wrigley’s Doublemint gum. The survey found the Meow Mix jingle, which was composed in 1976, ranked as the most popular musical ad behind Oscar Mayer.

One additional morsel from the survey: 15 percent of cat owners believe their felines can identify the Meow Mix jingle.

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