A rap battle. Seniors enjoying retirement. The story of a Paralympian.

The subjects of all three TV commercials that aired Sunday night during Super Bowl LII played well with university professors who gathered to rate the advertisements.

Bob Kolt and his Michigan State University colleagues spent Sunday night paying closer attention to the commercials than to the football game. Kolt said about 25 professors were asked to rate the commercials — the game only and not during halftime or the pre- or post-game.

Kolt, a professor in MSU’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations, and his colleagues critiqued the ads in real time, praising the entertainment provided by E-Trade ad’s featuring senior citizens who saved for retirement and an ad for Doritos and Mount Dew, featuring actor Peter Dinklage battling against Morgan Freeman in a freestyle rap.

“We liked E*Trade retirement ad,” Kolt said. “It was cute and it was memorable. I think we will see it after the game. It gets you into the story. It was more than one joke. It hits you with a payoff. You remember the sponsor.”

The Dorito/Mountain Dew ads were separate but blended, Kolt said.

“It’s a funny ad,” he said. “That is what a Super Bowl ad needs to be. It has to step out beyond and have legendary status.”

Corporate responsibility was a huge theme of several commercial spots, from Budweiser switching from beer production to water in response to natural disasters and emergencies, to Toyota’s piece on the life story of Lauren Woolstencroft, an eight-time Paralympic gold medalist born without legs below the knee and no left arm below the elbow.

“Commercial speech, it’s really driven to be a transaction, but the Super Bowl is bigger than a transaction,” Kolt said. “Corporations are spending millions and they want to be recognized for the good they do. They are beyond selling a car or drink. They want to be a good company.”

An ad with actor Chris Hemsworth that appeared to be for a movie was actually a tourism spot for Australia. Kolt said the judges enjoyed the spot for “its twists and turns.”

The Diet Coke ad, with a young woman standing tall touting the soft drink, was the worst ad in the first half of the game, Kolt said.

“It did not connect with us. She was dancing and singing and going over different ad brands. We were looking at her and there wasn’t much payoff,” Kolt said.

This is the 21st year Kolt and his MSU colleagues gathered to rate the ads in real time.

Michigan native Keegan-Michael Key starred in a 1-minute spot for Rocket Mortgage. Key, with his trademark sense of humor, helps customers as the “interpreter” with complex scenarios from ordering a vegetarian dish to understanding the details of an online mortgage application.

“Rocket Mortgage makes the complex simple,” Key tells the audience.

Another ad that ran in the Detroit area during the Super Bowl featured Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Shri Thanedar eagerly trying to boost his profile and clear up how to pronounce his name in the tongue-in-cheek 30-second spot.

“Hi, I’m Shri Thanedar running for governor,” Thanedar says in one scene, extending a hand to a potential constituent on the street.

“Free Darth Vader?” says the man. “No, Shri Thanedar,” Thanedar says, patiently repeating his name.

In another scene, someone asks if he said “Siri” (as the man’s cell phone asks how it can help). “Shri!” the candidate says.

Another encounter on the street in the ad appears to brighten Thanedar: “Shri Thanedar,” he tells a woman. “Not Rick Snyder?” she says.

“That’s closer. Closer,” the candidate says.

The ads, which cost about $200,000 for the 30-second spots, also were expected to run in the Lansing, Grand Rapids and Flint-Saginaw markets during the Super Bowl.

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