It pays to advertise. That’s the lesson Chrysler is learning from the market’s growing acceptance of the Chrysler 200 midsize car, the controversial centerpiece of a ground-breaking Super Bowl commercial.

“For March 2010, we sold two Sebring sedans,” dealer Bill Golling says of the 200’s predecessor. “March 2011 we sold 31 Chrysler 200s. I’m sure the campaign has had an impact.” The 200 accounted for 6,750 deliveries in March, 20% of the auto maker’s car sales which soared 40.5%, compared with like-2010.

Chrysler’s total vehicle sales jumped 26.1% in March, according to Ward’s data. The commercial, the first 2-minute ad in history of Super Bowl telecasts, featured rapper Eminem behind the wheel of the 200. Even though it aired in February, it has continued to generate “buzz,” says Golling, dealer principal of Golling Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Bloomfield Hills, MI.

The ad still is being shown in a shorter format. And despite a strong underlying theme about a resilient Detroit, it seems to resonate outside the beleaguered Motor City.

The 200 has been “a real success,” says Jerry Dillard, president of Park Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Lexington Park, MD.

A 200 sits on Dillard’s lot just three days, compared with six for its predecessor, he tells Ward’s. “We’ve done very well, I can tell you.”

The car has been a lightning rod for criticism. A Detroit News auto writer slammed the car and subsequently quit his job when the newspaper tried to soften his review, sparking a swirl of controversy and drawing attention to the negative critique.

But outside of Detroit, dealers report no impact on consumer attitudes, a senior Chrysler executive tells Ward’s.

The auto maker has extended through April 4 a $199 lease deal for the 200. Chrysler also has extended its “truck month” promotion, which offers 0% financing on the Ram light-duty fullsize pickup, the auto maker’s volume sales leader in March with 21,183 deliveries, a 15.8% jump from like-2010.

Chrysler’s light-truck tally of 87,372 deliveries marks a 21.2% hike from year-ago. Of all the auto maker’s nameplates still in production, just one – the Chrysler 300 – was in negative sales territory. Spokesman Ralph Kisiel cites launch timing.

“We just started shipping mid-March,” he tells Ward’s.

They can’t arrive soon enough for Dillard. “Our first and only one stayed exactly one day,” he says. “We’ve got five on the way.”

Through March, Chrysler sales were tracking 22.4% ahead of like-2010’s pace.

emayne@wardsauto.com