Fiat will not return as the sponsor of the Fader Fort at South by Southwest this year, Billboard has learned. Following a one-year sponsorship that saw record attendance at SXSW (58,000 attendees across four days) and at New York's CMJ Music Festival in October, Fiat has discontinued the program as part of a massive rethinking of its entire marketing strategy for 2012. "The Fiat Brand is evaluating its existing and future partnerships for 2012 to determine the best fit and direction for the brand," Dianna Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for Fiat's parent company Chrysler, said in a statement.
The final call to discontinue the Fader program was made by Fiat's new head of brand sales and marketing, Timothy Kuniskis, executives familiar with negotiations tell Billboard. Despite the Fader Fort success, Kuniskis has a rough track record to contend with for Fiat heading into 2012. Its U.S. launch campaign for the Fiat 500 featuring Jennifer Lopez drew harsh reviews from critics failed to ignite sales and ultimately prompted the company to shift its marketing support to the male-targeted Abarth, sans Lopez. In a recent interview with Advertising Age, Kiniskis said of the Lopez campaign, "If you come off the J. Lo stuff too soon -- we all liked it -- people will say we made a mistake, which we don't think we did. But if we wait too long, it could become a chick car. Luckily we have the Abarth, which gives us an excuse to transition."
Prior to Fiat, the Fader had a longtime partnership with Levi's, which took home an Entertainnment/Music OMMA Award in its 10th and final year. Fiat's SXSW program was also nominated for an Integrated Online Campaign Award in 2011. "We had a great year working with Fiat on the Fort program - they were a brand that fit our aesthetic, they were creative and they allowed us to push the envelope," Fader president-publisher Andy Cohn says. "We had the most successful year in our 11-year history by every sense of return on investment, media reach and people being able to experience the car."
With Fiat sitting out, Fader is in active talks with several automotive brands about title sponsorships for this year's festival. Confirmed sponsors include longtime supporters Converse and Budweiser, returning media partner Sirius XM Radio and new media partners Fuse and YouTube, which will stream select concerts throughout the week. Stumptown Coffee will also have a presence at this year's Fort.