The hottest holiday commercials this season have ditched the heartwarming, home-for-the-holidays scenes to strike a dramatically different chord.

Advertising executives have instead chosen sly humor over sentiment, as major marketers including American Honda Motor Co., Netflix and K-Mart are betting that tongue-in-cheek sells.

Perhaps for good reason: U.S. consumers are tired of sugarcoated Christmas commercials, according to a recent online survey of more than 2,000 consumers.

"We were surprised that a majority of Americans said they like to see Scrooge-like themes, or the naughtier side of things, in holiday ads," said Becky Jones, vice president of marketing and research at Viamedia, the Kentucky-based cable advertising sales firm that conducted the study.

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K-Mart rolled out this season's most controversial commercial. In a spot called "Jingle Balls," K-Mart's "bell choir" features six male models, in holiday-themed Joe Boxer shorts, thrusting their hips to the well-known holiday tune.

"You would not expect an ad like this from K-Mart," said Ed Russell, an advertising professor at Syracuse University. "In the past, K-Mart hasn't had much personality. But this represents a huge move for them, and has made K-Mart a more interesting place to shop."

Some K-Mart shoppers complained, calling the commercial inappropriate. Others, however, applauded the audacity of the ad.

Competitor J.C. Penney sent K-Mart a Twitter message that said: "We noticed you could use some pants. So here's a 15% off coupon."

For marketers, advertisements that go viral like "Jingle Balls" can be a gift that keeps on giving.

Brands increasingly are striving to break through the cluttered marketplace to get attention for their products. Advertisers say the best way to get the attention of consumers, distracted by a flood of messages, is to create an element of surprise or intrigue.

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"You have to reward the viewer, who in reality doesn't really want to hear from you," one ad executive said.

That's what prompted ad agency RPA of Santa Monica to enlist 1990s crooner Michael Bolton to charge up commercials for Honda's "Happy Honda Days" year-end sales event.

In the ads, shot in Santa Ana and Puente Hills, Bolton suddenly appears on Honda car lots to sing in his trademark style as potential car buyers mill around.

"People expect to be surprised and amazed," said Jason Sperling, RPA's executive creative director. "We picked Michael Bolton because we knew he would help us create ads that were irreverent, a little tongue-in-cheek and fun. And he took advantage of the cheesiness."

Susie Rossick, a Honda senior manager, said the marketing team was inspired by a Bolton video from two years ago that has been watched on YouTube more than 117 million times. In the spoof, Bolton sings about his pretend devotion to Capt. Jack Sparrow, the character played by Johnny Depp in the Walt Disney Co. "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.

As a tie-in to the Honda TV commercials, Bolton spent a day last month recording musical greeting cards, personalized for fans who sent messages on Twitter, using the hashtag #XOXOBolton.

"You can't just rely on television anymore," Rossick said. "We needed something that would really break through the clutter. And Michael, who still has such an amazing voice, had fun with it."

This fall, video service Netflix hired Deutsch LA, which is based near Playa Vista, to handle its advertising. The firm created a holiday-themed commercial to encourage new customers to sign up for the service in advance of the holidays — a big time for family movie watching.