Small Wonder: The Super Bowl spot that got away

13 years ago I pitched an idea for a “Big Game” ad that still haunts me. This is that spot.

John Kovacevich
8 min readFeb 12, 2023


If you work as an advertising copywriter or art director, 99.9% of your ideas never see the light of day.

It’s the nature of the gig. You come up with a million ideas, you share the best with your creative director, and they kill many of them. Others get whittled down during rounds and rounds of internal agency reviews. A select few get presented to the client.

But even the ones that make into into the client deck, most still get a “no.” And sometimes, a client “yes” simply means it goes into testing…where focus groups can (and usually do) strangle the baby in the crib.

In other words, very few ad ideas survive the gauntlet and make it out into the world.

If you can’t make peace with that fact—that most of your career’s creative output is simply meeting fodder—you go crazy and don’t survive long in advertising. So you learn to let it go.

But a few stick in your craw.

And for me, one of those is a Super Bowl spot that I wrote for Chevrolet 13 years ago.

I’m still convinced it would have been a big hit. And I’m finally ready to talk about it…

Pitching for the Big Game

In 2010, I was a copywriter and associate creative director at Goodby Silverstein & Partners. That year, Chevrolet, rather unexpectedly, shifted their creative agency duties to GS&P. We all got strapped to a metaphorical rocket to create a LOT of advertising, very fast.

One of the briefs: come up with an idea for a 2011 Super Bowl spot to promote the launch of the Chevy Cruze, their new compact car.

I’d written the initial batch of Cruze spots that had just started airing and had been well received. I had another batch of spots in pre-production. But the Super Bowl…well, that’s something else all together and it required something bigger, splashier, and funnier.

After many rounds, my partner Brian Gunderson and I had two ideas on the table for the big game…

The first was a spot where a mom and dad bought their daughter a college graduation present: “We got you a Cruze.”

The daughter freaks out with excitement…and mom and dad step aside to reveal…Tom Cruise.

But the daughter is CRUSHED. She was hoping for a $17,000 compact car, not the world’s biggest movie star. She rattles off all the wonderful new features in the Cruze. Tom asks for a ride, the two hit the open road, there’s a funny button joke…cue the bowtie logo and the tagline.

This is not the spot I’m still sad about.

First and foremost, in the light of 2023, this spot feels a lot more cringey than it did to me 13 years ago. (Her parents “got her” a movie star for graduation?! Ew.)

Also, Mr. Cruise wasn’t doing commercials back then. But I did record a video that was sent to his agent, pitching the idea. (We never heard back. It was for the best.)

It’s the OTHER concept that made it into the Super Bowl client presentation that I still think about to this day.

One based on a children’s comedy science-fiction sitcom that aired in first-run syndication from 1985 to 1989.

Small Wonder

Do you remember the show, Small Wonder? If not, let’s let Wikipedia remind you:

The story lines revolve around V.I.C.I. (an acronym for Voice Input Child Identicant, pronounced “Vicki”), an android in the form of a 10-year-old girl. Vicki was built by Ted Lawson, an engineer/inventor for United Robotronics, in an effort to assist handicapped children. Lawson takes the robot home so that it can mature within a family environment. Vicki’s features include superhuman strength and speed, an AC outlet under her right arm, a data port under her left arm, and an access panel in her back. Despite this, the Lawson family initially tries to pass Vicki off as an orphaned family member whom they legally adopt as their daughter.

The Lawson family tries to keep the robot’s existence a secret, but their disagreeable neighbors, the Brindles, keep on popping up at the most unexpected moments — especially nosy next-door neighbor Harriet, whose father happens to be Ted Lawson’s co-worker. The show’s humor frequently derived from Vicki’s attempts to learn human behavior and the robot’s literal interpretation of speech and the family’s efforts to disguise the robot’s true nature.

And the theme song? “She’s fantastic! Made of plastic! Microchips here and there. She’s a small wonder, brings love and laughter everywhere.”

What can I say, folks? The 80s. It was a golden era.

So I thought…it’s been 20 years since we last saw Vicki…

What if she grew up, married her adopted brother, and drove a Chevy Cruze?

And she was played by Kristen Wiig. 😎

Kristen Wiig! In that Vickie outfit? And that robot monotone?! The “small wonder” pun for a new compact car!

And…what if Jaime, her adopted brother who later became her husband, was played by…Will Ferrell??

And what if Harriet, the nosey red-headed neighbor girl, still lived next door and popped in and was played by… (to be honest, I don’t remember who we talked about, but back in 2010, it was probably Amy Adams or Jennifer Aniston or somebody equally awesome.)

Want to see the scripts? The actual ones from that pitch deck? Here they are:

Chevrolet Cruze/Super Bowl :60 TV — “Small Wonder” V1

We are watching what appears to be a version of the late 80s TV show “Small Wonder.” But the little girl robot is now a 35-year old woman (Kristen Wiig!) She still wears a version of that same dress and talks in a monotone. She’s married to Jamie (Will Ferrell!), the little boy from the series.

We see the “Small Wonder” bumper — it has the show title graphic and a musical sting.

ANNOUNCER (OS): Small Wonder is filmed before a live studio audience.

Vickie enters the kitchen and she’s doing something on her cell phone. Jamie looks up from the breakfast table.

JAMIE: Vickie, what are doing, sweetheart?

VICKI: I’m checking the tire pressure on the car.

JAMIE: On your phone?

VICKI: It’s 2011, Jamie. Robots aren’t just for household chores anymore.

Studio audience laughter.

JAMIE: Don’t I know it.

Studio audience laughter and a couple of “Ooooos.” Vickie shows Jamie the MyLink screen.

VICKI: With our new Chevy Cruze, I can check how much gas we have, mileage reports, even send directions to the car, right with my phone.

The backdoor opens and Harriet (red-headed celeb TBD!), the neighbor enters. She too is 35 years old, but she still wears her red hair in the same way she did 25 years ago. She’s dressed like a lawyer in a fashionable suit.

HARRIET: Vick, you ready to go?

VICKI: Let me kiss the baby goodbye.

She goes over to a crib in the corner and picks up and kisses a baby that’s half-human/half-robot. Studio audience laughter. Cut to Vickie and Harriet in front of the house, getting into the Cruze.

TIM ALLEN VO: The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. It’s…wait for it…a small wonder.

Vickie is in the car driving. She pushes the OnStar button.

ONSTAR: Hello Vickie. Thanks for calling OnStar. How can I help you today?

Vickie looks at the camera.

VICKI: I like that she does not have a robot voice.

Cut to the bowtie on the front of the car and the theme line “Chevy Runs Deep.”

There was another version, too…

Chevrolet Cruze/Super Bowl :60 TV — “Small Wonder” V2

We open on Vickie the robot (Kristen Wiig!) from the late 80s TV show “Small Wonder” — but she’s now 35 years old. She still talks in a robot monotone.

VICKI: Yeah, I used to be on a TV show.

We see a quick flash of the show from the 80s — her as a little girl, the “Small Wonder” logo and musical sting.

VICKI: But that was a long time ago.

We see her standing in front of a “vanity wall” of framed photos from her glory days on the show — her posing with the cast and crew, a photo with Barbara Bush, a picture with ALF — but on the wall of her typical suburban home.

VICKI: Today I’m just like everybody else. That’s why I drive the Chevy Cruze.

We see her with her husband (Will Ferrell!), who is clearly an older version of the Jamie character from the show. (It’s not creepy, it’s true love.)

VICKI: Believe me, I know technology.

She’s standing in front of the car showing off what she can control with her cell phone.

VICKI: With MyLink, I can check my gas mileage, tire pressure, send directions to my car.

We see an older version of Harriet, the noisy neighbor from the show, looking over the hedge. She’s also now 35, but she still wears her hair the same way she did 25 years ago.

Cut to Vicki behind the wheel. Her husband Jamie is in the passenger seat. They are parked in their drive way.

VICKI: Plug me in, babe?

Jamie reaches behind Vickie and pulls out a USB cord. He lifts the center console, finds the MP3 connector and plugs in the cord. Music starts.

TIM ALLEN VO: The 2011 Chevrolet Cruze. It’s a small wonder. Get it? It’s a pun.

Vickie is in the car driving. She pushes the OnStar button.

ONSTAR: Hello Vickie. Thanks for calling OnStar. How can I help you today?

Vickie looks at the camera.

VICKI: I like that she does not have a robot voice.

Cut to the bowtie on the front of the car and the theme line “Chevy Runs Deep.”

Sigh…it would have been GREAT, right??!

In 2023, celebrity and nostalgia are table stakes for any Super Bowl spot. But back in 2010, this was an entirely new concept. We were ahead of our time!

Alas, it did not get the green light and remains “the one that got away.” (Chevy no longer manufactures the Cruze here in North America. But in my mind, people would STILL be talking about that spot if we’d made it!)

I don’t remember why it died. I don’t think I was in the room for the client presentation—somebody above my pay grade flew to Detroit to present the Super Bowl concepts. But the client didn’t bite and it never got to the pitch-it-to-Wiig’s-people phase.

As fate would have it, I DID end up getting a spot on the Super Bowl that year. One of the other Cruze spots we finished in January 2011— the somewhat controversial car-reads-your-Facebook-feed ad (where I snuck my wife’s name into the script)—made it onto the broadcast.

But I still think about that Small Wonder idea. Wiig would have crushed it. Viewers would have loved it.

And I’d be a middle-aged advertising creative director, telling stories about “the good old days” and how “they don’t make ’em like they used to” and…oh…I’m doing that, anyway. 😉

Happy Super Bowl, friends. Enjoy the game. Enjoy the ads.

John Kovacevich is a creative director and the founder of Agency SOS. He writes a weekly email highlighting three bits of creative inspiration for modern marketers. You should subscribe; it’s free and it’s good.