The local newspaper in Syracuse, New York recently informed its readers that “the fastest-growing party brand on America’s college circuit” was coming back to Syracuse University.
The paper noted that the brand, I’m Shmacked, made headlines last fall when it spurred a riot at the University of Delaware, and that it was “raising debates over the line between harmless young indulgence and excessive, destructive behaviour.”
I’m Shmacked is hugely popular among high school and college students. Their videos have racked up more than 25 million views on YouTube, their Facebook page has more than 100,000 likes, and they have more than 160,000 Twitter followers. In 2012, the popularity of the videos landed I’m Shmacked a profile in The New York Times.
The company has reportedly been valued at $US5 million.
I’m Shmacked’s 21-year-old co-founders, Arya Toufanian and Jeffrie Ray, travel around to big college campuses in the U.S. to throw raucous parties and make videos showing students’ over-the-top antics. The startup is often compared to “Girls Gone Wild” — I’m Shmacked videos have a similar vibe, but focus almost exclusively on college parties rather than wild spring breaks.
The videos can fuel competition among schools. Many students at party schools view I’m Shmacked videos as a badge of honour that helps them out-party one another.
The ugly side of the videos
The brand is also drawing backlash. The negative attention has some students worried these videos could hurt their schools and, by extension, their future careers. Of course, college students will always throw drunken parties and maybe even riot with or without I’m Shmacked. But college officials told us the presence of video cameras at college parties encourages out-of-control behaviour from students who want to appear in viral clips.
Another concern is that videos produced by I’m Shmacked promote a “rape culture” and unsafe environment for female students on campus. Less than two months ago, the company posted a video to its YouTube page titled “Signs She Wants The D” in which a host asks people in Miami how they know a woman wants sex.
One guy said: “It depends on what she’s wearing. If she’s got on leggings, she definitely wants the D. If she got on a skirt, she definitely wants the D.” Another man said: “It’s up to you. You’re the man.”
And a video posted last year focused on the theory that girls like “a**holes” and featured students saying things like, “Treat her like dirt and she’ll stick to you like mud.”
These videos are especially concerning because there’s a major conversation on college campuses across the country right now surrounding sexual assault and the safety of students. Colleges have been accused of mishandling sex assault cases, and the federal government has stepped in to investigate certain schools.
Business Insider first became interested in I’m Shmacked when one of its founders threatened a Business Insider reporter with rape on Twitter.
Toufanian distanced I’m Shmacked from the comments made in these videos.
“It’s content. The students at the university choose the questions, we film it,” he told Business Insider. “We do not advocate or encourage anything said on camera, we simply film.”
Some students, unhappy with the negative image tied to the videos, have started turning on I’m Shmacked. Fraternities at some schools have banned I’m Shmacked from filming on their property, and students have protested on social media to prevent I’m Shmacked from coming to their campuses, students and university administrators told Business Insider.
But Toufanian and Ray still have plans for expansion. They’re starting to turn their party videos into a business, with an eye on book deals and licensing their footage.
The rise of I’m Shmacked
I’m Shmacked began as a video startup.
Toufanian met Ray in New York’s Penn Station around 2011. Ray had been filming high school parties around Philadelphia, and once the two got to talking, they got the idea to film college life at campuses around the country.
“He was filming in high schools and I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I film college,'” Toufanian told Business Insider. “It was really the right place at the right time.”
The pair hoped to attract companies (which could presumably become sponsors) looking to reach young adults, according to Upstart Business Journal.
Three months into the venture, I’m Shmacked videos started to go viral.
The first few videos showed party scenes, sports, and picturesque college campus shots set to the beat of rap music. The videos racked up tens of thousands of views.
Ray and Toufanian then started to legitimise the business.
After the videos took off, an advertising agency in New York invested $US300,000 in I’m Shmacked, according to Upstart.
Now, I’m Shmacked is hoping for more big-time investments. Toufanian recently tweeted about chatting with billionaire entrepreneur and “Shark Tank” investor Mark Cuban. I’m Shmacked’s main Twitter account then started tweeting about the possibility of Cuban investing in the company. (The tweets have since been deleted.)
It’s unclear whether that will ever come to fruition. When asked about whether he’s in talks with I’m Shmacked or planning to hear a pitch from them, Cuban told Business Insider: “Nope. Just exchanged messages.” Toufanian declined to comment.
The effort to monetise the I’m Shmacked business also includes booking venues near big college campuses and selling tickets to events.
Toufanian told us I’m Shmacked hires security and brings in police to control the events, but the parties can still get wild. Last week, 35 people were arrested at an I’m Shmacked event in Myrtle Beach, Florida. Of those people, 34 were under the legal drinking age.
“Almost every show has incidents,” Toufanian said. “When you have a sold out event with 2,000+ college students in a concentrated area, there might be incidents. We take these incidents very seriously. We implemented increased precautions such as restricted alcohol sales, additional security, and staff to monitor the partygoers and help assist them with water, a cooling-off area, etc.”
The most obvious sign that I’m Shmacked had hit it big was the rioting that happened at the University of Delaware last year when the group announced on Twitter they were on their way to Newark, Delaware to make a video.
A party at the men’s rugby team house devolved into an out-of-control rager. Three people were arrested and the rugby team was suspended for five years.
Chris Lucier, the vice president for enrollment management at the University of Delaware, told Business Insider the school’s I’m Shmacked visit — and the riots that ensued — didn’t seem to have a lasting effect on the university. But the university still doesn’t want the party scene to attract the wrong type of student.
“If there’s a student who’s using I’m Shmacked to decide where to apply or enroll, frankly, I don’t want the applying or attending the University or Delaware,” he said.
“A new way to scout colleges”
Viral videos aren’t the end game for I’m Shmacked. The brand bills itself as “a new way to scout colleges,” encouraging a culture where students base their higher education decisions on which school throws the best parties.
“It’s a platform for high school students as well as college students to look at schools that they maybe can’t afford to visit,” Toufanian said. “If they can’t afford to visit the school, they can go on YouTube.”
These tweets — which were retweeted from I’m Shmacked accounts — show the influence of I’m Shmacked on college decisions:
Predictably, the influence of I’m Shmacked has angered university administrators. I’m Shmacked is “highlighting the parts of college that don’t need to be highlighted,” Bronson Hilliard, the assistant vice chancellor for media relations at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Business Insider.
Hilliard (along with several other sources Business Insider spoke to, including current college students) also said the partying seen in I’m Shmacked videos is exaggerated.
“It’s like any reality TV show. You’re going to inject an element of unreality into it when you stick a camera in somebody’s face because they’re going to act more exaggerated than they normally would,” Hilliard said. “It glamorizes overconsumption of alcohol and drugs and it gives you a false sense of what the social norm is on a campus.”
Toufanian admits the videos are sensationalized, but said I’m Shmacked employees aim to shoot candid footage and don’t encourage people to do anything they’re not supposed to be doing on camera.
“Of course college isn’t a big party … we film it in about a week and we chop it up,” Toufanian said. “It’s very important for our company to include the party footage to be able to attract our audience. There’s no point filming a video that’s brochure-like because no one is going to watch it.”
Students fight back
Once I’m Shmacked became more mainstream, and news outlets near college towns started airing some of the wild footage, many college students joined administrators in worrying about the repercussions of the videos.
A Pennsylvania State University student who requested anonymity told Business Insider I’m Shmacked’s popularity has been waning at the notorious party school.
“A lot of the frats will tell [I’m Shmacked] to stop taping us or won’t let [them] in,” she said. “People used to make it a big deal, people thought it was awesome, but now it’s very much overrated, at least at Penn State … It had more of an appeal when social media wasn’t quite as big, but now there are so many different accounts that show hot girls at big party schools.”
And some students agree the videos don’t paint an entirely accurate picture of a school’s culture.
A student from the University of Colorado, Boulder, who also wanted to remain anonymous, told Business Insider that I’m Shmacked is “really good at making an average college party look really cool.”
Corey Farris, dean of students at West Virginia University, said that when I’m Shmacked first came to campus, it was “sort of a novel thing,” but that wore off with subsequent visits.
“When I’m Shmacked then put out a tweet saying ‘We’re coming back’ … the students were quite vocal with what they said,” Farris said. “We watched social media that said go away, you’re not welcome here. … When they did show up, they went near some of our Greek houses, and [the students] said ‘Get away, you’re not allowed to film our house.'”
Some students have complained on Twitter that the I’m Shmacked videos brought too much negative attention to the school, causing the administration to crack down on the party scene in an effort avoid more damage to the school’s reputation:
I don’t understand why people get so hyped up over I’m Shmacked coming to Morgantown…them coming to WVU ruined so much.
— Brittney Ann (@briiittneyyyy) June 14, 2014
Do people really care that we didn’t get the #1 party school spot? That and i’m shmacked made wvu crack down in the first place
— Emily Mormile (@emmormile) August 6, 2014
Why is I’m Shmacked at WVU? They’re the reason we have idiots that only come there to party and end up making us look like a bad university
— Hootz (@MisterHooters) August 14, 2013
Of course, not all students are over I’m Shmacked. Some students have also taken to Twitter to talk about how much they love the videos and can’t wait to get back to school and start partying.