Imagine that!

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Most folks (myself included) loathe television commercials. Indeed, if you are of a certain age group (and that certainly includes me), you’ll recall a time when only four or five television channels existed: all of them laden with commercials that couldn’t be avoided.

Now, in the age of cable television, TiVo, direct TV and the like, you can skip over them or even edit the dratted things out of your favorite shows completely.

Yet, despite all that being said, television commercials remain a distinctive and very powerful marketing tool. Indeed, every year, those that make them for a living generate vignettes that – despite their necessarily miniscule length – capture our attention and imagination.

And often times, not surprisingly perhaps, the “best of the best” in the world of television commercials center around motor vehicles.

For example, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, the best television commercial of 2011 concerned a kid in Darth Vader costume trying to unsuccessfully use “The Force” in everyday life. That is, until his father comes home from work at the wheel of the family’s Volkswagen Passat …

Believe it or not, this advertisement was the most viewed commercial on YouTube this year, garnering 45 million views, and is estimated to have generated $100 million worth of “free publicity,” such as when the “Today Show” did a story on the little boy who played Darth Vader.

Now, do you think any of this helped Volkswagen sell more Passat model cars? Chew on this for a minute: the automakers said it sold more Passats in the first two months of 2011 than in all of 2010.

[Here are some bloopers and deleted scenes from Volkswagen’s "The Force" commercial …and I love how the happy dog doesn’t stick to the script in some of these outtakes.]

One of the most powerful TV commercials this year, however, centered on Chrysler and the city of Detroit; two long abused icons of the automotive world.

This two-minute advertisement – dubbed “Imported from Detroit” and which rolled during the Super Bowl for undoubtedly a huge sum of money – encapsulated a lot of deep seated emotion that many Americans I think can relate to.

Not only did this commercial for the Chrysler 200 garner an Emmy award, the automaker sold nearly 78,000 of them through the first 11 months of 2011 – over three times the volume of the Sebring model it replaced during the same time period in 2010.

While another of the “best of the best” commercials didn’t concern vehicles per se – it heralded Allstate’s automotive insurance products – it certainly used vehicles to grab and keep the attention of viewers.

The popular “Mayhem” series of advertisements – featuring the actor Dean Winters – were watched over 20 million times on YouTube, and a Facebook page developed for his character now has over 1.1 million fans. Imagine that!

[Here’s a “Mayhem” spot that takes a swipe at the ever-more-popular GPS navigation devices increasingly used by motorists and truckers alike to help them get from here to there.]

The “Mayhem” series also stuck close to home for me with the commercial below, because, yes, my eldest daughter is a teenager … with her two sisters soon to follow her into teenager land.

Do we own a SUV? Yes. Is it pink? Heck no! Will I let them drive it? Not after watching this commercial!

It just goes to show you that even though television commercials are tolerated by the vast majority of us at best, they often craft some truly remarkable and attention-grabbing work for the small screen.

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