Oh man. I honestly didn’t think I would ever hear the words “I’m Shmacked” unironically ever again, but here we are, as the faux party documentary and digital media brand from our old YouTube days is back in the news cycle. Scam enthusiasts, listen up. This sh*t is even crazier than Anna Delvey.
“I’m Shmacked,” which started as a YouTube channel and evolved into a cross channel conglomerate, had really one mission when it started in 2011: to showcase college party culture. The brand launched two “documentaries” eight years ago, one at Syracuse in New York and the other at Temple University in Pennsylvania. The videos, which are basically 3-minute party montages set to whatever dumb pop song was relevant at the time, essentially showcase the social scene at each school. “I’m Shmacked” was like the cool older brother who brought you along to parties and introduced you to girls who would never sleep with you, but then pretended like you didn’t exist once you got there. The older videos typically followed one to two students (usually a pretty fratty looking guy and gorgeous Instagram model-esque girl) for a “day in the life” type video. As their bios insinuate, they created “A New Way to Scout Colleges.”
Shortly after releasing their first two videos, the brand expanded and traveled around the country to produce these party documentaries. To be fair, their original marketing was pretty genius. High school students would watch the videos and see what they believed to be a raw depiction of the schools they were considering attending. The videos would intersperse images of school events, tailgates, and scenes from the city’s local spots. It’s like they were selling the ultimate college cultural experience, set to “Closer” by The Chainsmokers.
High schoolers loved it. College students wanted to be featured in it. Alumni bragged about it. I’m Shmacked catered to their audiences well: The first videos were featured on Brobible (although they have since been taken down), and the brand has been praised on sites like HerCampus for “[calling] out distinct features of the student body, social traditions, and events at every campus they film at, showcasing that no two schools are alike.” But it wasn’t all Mardi Gras beads at frat tanks, according to a new report by the New York Times. I’m Shmacked routinely scammed Instagram marketing hopefuls out of, in some cases, hundreds of dollars.
Taylor Lorenz, writer for The New York Times and Twitter superstar known for promoting the “Ok Boomer” trend, recently published an article exposing the fraud behind the I’m Shmacked college ambassador program. And, spoiler alert, this has been going on for years and the 18-year-olds sucked into it didn’t always have the full force of the NY Times behind them to back up their claims.
Absolutely gobsmacked that I'm Shmacked isn't on the up and up https://t.co/MPsHKIYEqb
— Yukon Cornelius (@ItsTimToBegin) November 6, 2019
So, here’s a quick breakdown of how the program worked. College students could directly contact I’m Shmacked via their social media channels, usually Instagram, when the company would post on their stories or timeline that they were looking for “ambassadors.” Students, usually freshmen, would reach out and apply to open a charter at their school, and if accepted—which nearly all of them were—they were prompted to pay a fee to become an “official ambassador.” The fees ranged from as low as $40 dollars to as high as $500. Just for anyone who needs to hear this, if an internship or job asks you to pay THEM, it’s probably a scam.
The Times reports the ambassador program launched in 2016, but I actually used to date a guy in college who applied for a charter in Arizona back in late 2013 and shelled out $40 just to get ghosted, so these people have been scamming frat boys from the early ages. After paying the fee, these students were promised they would make their money back tenfold by running college specific Instagram accounts for the company and receiving ads and sponsorships. Ambassadors were also promised a portion of merchandise profits if they promoted them on their accounts, since students were told they’d receive a portion of proceeds from any merch sold through college-specific merch shops.
Alright, so that’s the basics. Students were used for marketing and content creation. They paid money for the potential of the main brand to visit their college and host a party, and to have control of their college-specific Instagram account. And everyone got paid back when the sponsors and merch came through, right? Wrong! This is the American age of Fyre Festival and LuLaRoe! Multiple former ambassadors told the NY Times that they never got a dime. Those merchandise shops never got set up. One claimed he was blocked right after he paid his ambassador fee. Others were threatened with lawsuits by Toufanian if they tried to speak out and warn others about the experience. It was, basically, a total scam.
The Times estimates from records of the company that around 3,600 students participated in the program. It took a quick Google search to find out there are about 4,200 colleges and universities in America. So is it possible that “I’m Shmacked” had only one ambassador per school, as promised? Theoretically, yes. But like I said before, nothing is real here. Many people reported that they came across several Instagram pages for their college, and when asked what that meant, co-founder Arya Toufanian claimed they were fakes and his team would ask Instagram to take them down. In reality, this was a way to have competing teams churn out even more content.
So what was in it for the founders? Well, Jeffrie Ray exited the company in 2016, which left Toufanian to reign over his empire solo. And the way he ran it is reminiscent of how Jonathan Cheban handles any negative comments about him: any time an ambassador would speak out negatively about the company, Toufanian would personally send threatening messages, vowing to sue and press criminal charges. He even threatened a Business Insider reporter, petitioning to fire and deport her, as well as tweeting out that she should “prepare her anus.”
Ew. So what happens now? The I’m Shmacked verified Instagram account was removed due to violations, but Toufanian’s personal account, which is verified, still exists, along with dozens of smaller college accounts. I honestly don’t have a ton of faith that this will be the last we see of the brand, or this guy. What I can hope for is a class-action lawsuit and two competing documentaries about the downfall of I’m Shmacked.
Images: Jade Masri / Unsplash; itstimtobegin / Twitter