A central issue in molecular electronics in order to build functional devices is to assess whether changes in the electronic structure of isolated compounds by chemical derivatization are retained once the molecules are inserted into molecular junctions. Recent theoretical studies have suggested that this is not always the case due to the occurrence of pinning effects making the alignment of the transporting levels insensitive to the changes in the electronic structure of the isolated systems. We explore here this phenomenon by investigating at both the experimental and theoretical levels the I/V characteristics of molecular junctions incorporating three different three-ring phenylene ethynylene derivatives designed to exhibit a significant variation of the HOMO level in the isolated state. At the theoretical level, our NEGF/DFT calculations performed on junctions including the three compounds show that, whereas the HOMO of the molecules varies by 0.61 eV in the isolated state, their alignment with respect to the Fermi level of the gold electrodes in the junction is very similar (within 0.1 eV). At the experimental level, the SAMs made of the three compounds have been contacted by a conducting AFM probe to measure their I/V characteristics. The alignment of the HOMO with respect to the Fermi level of the gold electrodes has been deduced by fitting the I/V curves, using a model based on a single-level description (Newns-Anderson model). The extracted values are found to be very similar for the three derivatives, in full consistency with the theoretical predictions, thus providing clear evidence for a HOMO level pinning effect.