The Wall Street Journal has written an in-depth deconstruction of Burger King’s “Whopper Freakout” campaign that goes beyond the typical “restate the catch phrase” level of analysis and delves into what makes this oddly persuasive bit of salesmanship so effective. Turns out, it’s rooted pretty firmly in a psychological principle that takes something away from people in order to get at the root of the thing’s appeal.

The videotaped hoax was a twist on a market research technique called ‘deprivation research,’ in which marketers measure how loyal consumers are to a brand or product by taking it away from them. The insight gained helps marketers design new marketing and ad ploys that will resonate better with consumers.

The visceral thrill of customers flipping out because they can’t get Whoppers has made for strangely compelling viewing. “Since kicking off two months ago, the video has been played 3.3 million times on a special Burger King Web site and has had 357,367 views on YouTube,” writes the Journal. “More importantly, Burger King says it helped sell burgers.”

And if the BK incarnation of the campaign isn’t quite edgy enough for your liking, check out Whopper Freakouts from the Hood. (WARNING: Not safe for work unless you’re employed by Gordon Ramsay.)

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