When a real-life institution is to be featured prominently in a series, it will be replaced by a fictional stand-in. This is done in part to avoid licensing issues, but also to avoid the problems inherent in twisting the institution to fit the specific needs of the show.
While this gives the writers the liberty to make necessary changes to the real-life institution, it does run the risk of giving the viewers an unintentional laugh. (Or occasionally an intentional one, as when the fictional version is used to provide a Take That
to the real-world counterpart).
A subtrope of Brand X
. For fake products that are transparent copies of real ones, but with a letter or two switched around, it's Bland-Name Product
. See Oceanic Airlines
for a fictional airline often used whenever something bad is about to happen.
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Anime and Manga
- "Bif Standard" and his "Standard OS" in Magical Girl Pretty Sammy.
- WcDonalds in just about any anime that needs a McDonald's stand-in. Except in Azumanga Daioh, where it's called Magnetron Burger.
- The Sailor Moon manga had many embassies, restaurants, and just about anything else you could think of actually based on buildings in Tokyo. Two recurring locations, Crown Game Center and Hikawa Shrine are among them. The real Crown has since been replaced by a McDonald's.
- Shows about Otaku will sometimes have fictional versions of the Comic Marker/Comiket convention in Tokyo. In Genshiken this is Comic Festival/Comifes, and in Comic Party this is Comic Party/Comipa.
- In the Air Gear manga, at one point there is a coffee shop called "Star in a Box", with a logo very similar to Starbucks...except that in place of the mermaid, it naturally depicted a box of stars.
- Similarly, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex features a "Starchild Coffee". Its logo and physical layout are very obvious stand-ins for Starbucks.
- Toradora!! has such an obvious Fictional Counterpart of Starbucks that the main character wonders out loud why the shop hasn't been sued.
- Mahou Sensei Negima! uses "Starbooks".
- Melody of Oblivion, meanwhile, features "Starducks".
- The World God Only Knows uses "Starbox".
- Axis Powers Hetalia has HetaTube, a blatant stand-in for YouTube.
- Hayate was part of a hostage situation with Yukiji, Himuro, and Sonia (they terrorized the poor submachine-gun-wielding thug) in a "Deathny's" restaurant.
- Jungle wa Itsumo Hare nochi Guu has "Pachimon", a game that seems to be similar to Pokémon.
- Japan Inc had several — the car firms Toyosan, Mitsutomo, Chrysky; the US TV station CBN...
- A scene in Rayearth OVA takes place in a Sabway (Subway) restaurant.
- The English far-right National Front has had at least a dozen of these analogues over the years, most infamously the Norsefire Coalition from V for Vendetta.
- In Ultimate Marvel, there are occasional references to "Camp X-Factor," which seems to be a mutant version of Guantanamo Bay (which itself, of course, is also known as Camp X-Ray); this is also a Mythology Gag.
- Power Pack had a Baseball Issue that took place at Shea Stadium. The teams were the "Mecs" and the "Clubs", fictional counterparts of the Mets and the Cubs, respectively. Mention was made of another team called the Redhawks, likely a counterpart for another team.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe does this with damn near everything, not just places but people and events as well.
- DC comics have a variety of fictional stand-ins, one example being 'Zesti' for 'Pepsi', another, more meta example being the substitution of the 'Wendy the Werewolf Stalker' tv show for 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.'
- Notably, the Martian Manhunter has a crippling addiction to "Chocos" cookies. He used to have an addiction to Oreos, but the name was changed at some point without explanation.
- STAR Labs, with its branches all over the world, is essentially the DCU's version of Bell Labs.
- In Runaways There is a chain of convienence stores called "Circle A" in place of the real life Circle K chain.
- Empowered does this with numerous stores, foods, TV shows and websites.
- An early issue of Invincible had a toy store named "Toys B We"
- Johnny the Homicidal Maniac uses both Taco Hell and Taco Smell. Oddly enough, the series also averts this with the same example: when Nny is in heaven reference is made to a Taco Bell (along with a note not to sue the author because he is funny).
- A (worksafe so far) Homestuck Kink Meme fill involving Asexuality in troll society features a parody of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network. Since Alternian trolls are required to reproduce on pain of death, their version of AVEN is a highly illegal underground society. Thus, it becomes the Aconcupiscent Invisibility and Education Network.
- Mexican Cantinflas film Su Excelencia, about the conflicts between Communism and Capitalism pretty much is one example after another:
- Republica De Los Cocos: Coconut Republic, Latin America in general, a Banana Republic
- Pepeslavia: Soviet Union, apparently a Commie Land
- Dolaronia: Dollarland, United States, never seen but hinted to be Eagleland
- Zambombia: Recently independent African nation
- Salchichonia: Germany to the point that the name literally means Sausageia
- Karamba: Hindu/Arabic , just a bilingual bonus to make you smile.
- Shrek is packed with Fictional Counterparts, with most of the parodies being a twist on the name to match the medieval feel. Examples include Friar's Fat Boy (Bob's Big Boy aka Frisch's Big Boy in some parts of the country) and Farbucks (Starbucks).
- Similar in Shark Tale, with billboards for Coral Cola and Gup, among others. Some are so close that they actually required permission from the real companies, turning parody into product placement.
- In Chicken Run, when the order "Chocks away!" is given, triangular "Tasty-Choc" bars in yellow wrappers are removed from under a plane's wheels. (Interestingly, the fact that the packaging is exactly that of a Toblerone bar is properly acknowledged in the credits; it seems that the name-change wasn't so much about dodging a trademark as about making sure that the joke was accessible even to people who'd never seen a real Toblerone bar.)
- When Zack Snyder started his screenplay for the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, he assumed he would get permission to use real-life companies in his movie (as the majority of the movie takes place in the mall, he wanted real-life stores), but unfortunately every store turned him down, so he was forced to create an entirely fictional mall. It's funny because the majority of the film's exposition takes place in a coffee shop, which could have made Starbucks a lot of money.
- On the other hand, Hallowed Grounds is a great name for a coffee shop.
- In the Wayne's World films, ubiquitous Canadian restaurant Tim Horton's Donuts becomes the film's fictional Stan Mikita's Donuts. Horton and Mikita are both Hockey Hall-of-famers. Actor-writer Mike Myers grew up in Toronto, where Horton played; character Wayne Campbell lived in Aurora, outside Chicago, where Mikita played his entire NHL career.
- Michael Clayton: U-North clearly resembles Monsanto, who obviously wouldn't have given permission to be portrayed so unambiguously evilly.
- Mooby's in Dogma is a stand-in for both McDonald's (Egg-a-Mooby-Muffin) and Disney (bi-coastal theme parks).
- Mooby's is fairly common throughout the View Askewniverse. Nails brand cigarettes also pop up regularly.
- Santa Carla is the fictional name of the town in the 1987 vampire film The Lost Boys. The film was actually filmed in Santa Cruz, CA.
- Idiocracy is an interesting example, because all the water, drinks and basically all liquids in America, except for toilet water, have been replaced by Brawndo, a Fictional Counterpart of Gatorade. What makes it interesting is that they specifically mention this by saying that it "tastes like Gatorade".
- Brawndo was created because they couldn't get permission to use the Gatorade brand. Fortunately for us, it's now a real product. It's an energy drink now, but it's still got what plants crave.
- This was basically a recasting of the "Powerthirst" commercials on YouTube (with that group's permission) which themselves were parodies of energy drinks (most closely resembling Monster in their packaging.)
- Averted with Costco, whose name is used as is but has grown into a city-sized store with its own trains and a law school.
- The 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street is set at fictional department store "Cole's", rather than real-life Macy's as in the original movie. Which just leads right back into real life as Coles is a mega chain of supermarkets around Australia.
- Quentin Tarantino is quite fond of stand-ins, such as Big Kahuna Burger and Apple brand cigarettes in Pulp Fiction.
- The "McDowells" restaurant in Coming to America is essentially McDonald's with a few minor cosmetic changes. This is hilariously parodied and lampshaded, in that the owner, Mr. McDowell, is very defensive about these cosmetic changes and lives in perpetual terror of McDonald's's lawyers calling him out about this.
- Based on the similarity of the logos, Lobster Shack in Easy A is clearly a parody of Red Lobster and Joe's Crab Shack.
- The various main characters in Across the Universe, who all represent aspects of The Beatles' styles and personalities, eventually form a record label called "Strawberry Jam" (whose logo is a giant strawberry), which is apparently a stand-in for Apple Records, The Beatles' record company in Real Life.
- Mac's workplace in Neighbors, may be one of accounting firm Price Waterhouse Coopers. The wall logo looks suspiciously similar to that of PWC's
- Animorphs has Zone 91 standing in for Area 51.
- WAA (Web Access America) = AOL, Jeremy Jason McCole = Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Power House = Home Improvement.
- John Berryman (Visser Four) isn't quite a Fictional Counterpart of John Barrymore, but he was a Shakespearean actor, though not a very good one.
- In Pendennis, William Makepeace Thackeray had the hero attend Oxbridge University, whose counterpart was called Camford. Also, in Vanity Fair, several of the male characters attended the public school called Slaughter House — this is a reference to Charterhouse, which Thackeray himself attended — it alludes both to the real school being situated near a slaughter house and to the sadistic corporal punishment there.
- Relatedly on the sadism issue, Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh has a Roughborough standing in for Rugby.
- Older than Television: The Sherlock Holmes story "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" (1923) is set in the British university town of "Camford", very obviously a Fictional Counterpart for one of the renowned university towns of Oxford or Cambridge.
- Good Omens features a fast food chain called "Burger Lord," founded by Dr. Raven Sable's (aka Famine) company Holdings (Holdings) LLC, in which all of the food served featured no nutritional value whatsoever. Lest the reader think one particular company is being targeted, mention is also made of the company's mascot, McLordy the Clown.
- Greg Bear's book Blood Music had the main character driving into Livermore, California and passing a Guinevere's Pizza. From the local description, this is fictional pizza place is exactly where a Round Table Pizza existed at the time.
- In The Confidence Man, Herman Melville satirizes writers of the time by giving them expies in the story; Charlie Noble is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne; Mark Winsome is Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the beggar is Edgar Allan Poe.
- Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon includes a Linux analogue called "Finux", specifically so he could do what he wanted with it without being constrained by its real-life attributes.
- Sarah Dessen's books feature Ume.com, which is Facebook in all but name. It even has a Mark Zuckerberg-like creator.
- The Fault in Our Stars has "The Genies" standing in for Make-A-Wish, perhaps because the (older teenage) characters describe going to Disney World as wasting your Wish and proceed to lose their virginity with one another on their trip.
- The Genesis Code has Umbra Domini ("The Shadow of the Lord") as a fictionalized version of the actual Catholic group Opus Dei ("The Work of God").
Live Action TV
- Donald P. Bellisario series JAG and NCIS often show the characters watching the news network ZNN — a play on CNN, of course. (Complete with very similar logo.) Sometimes watching it is directly in the plot, other times it's just on in the background...
- NCIS features coffee from DC Blend (with a suspiciously Starbucks-like logo and cup) and Caf-Pow (never Big Gulp).
- The cups do look remarkably like Big Gulp cups, but "Caf-Pow" appears to be the name of the beverage, not the name of the size.
- Bones: The Jeffersonian Institute is a stand-in for the Smithsonian Institution.
- Fresh Meat features Manchester Medlock University as a stand in for the real life University of Manchester.
- In So Weird, the "Star Dot Star" company is a fictionalized version of Microsoft.
- Most espionage series feature fictionalized counterparts of the CIA and KGB: U.N.C.L.E. in The Man From Uncle; CONTROL in Get Smart; KAOS in the same series is probably a Fictional Counterpart to SMERSH, itself a real-life spy organization that appeared in the early James Bond novels; Bond himself eventually faced SPECTRE (a terrorist organization with a similar modus operandi), which replaced SMERSH's appearances in the movies. In the movie The President's Analyst, government agencies denied permission to use their names after filming had started, so references to the "FBR" and "CEA" are obviously dubbed in.
- In the 2008 movie version of Get Smart, CONTROL and the CIA exist, and engage in cross-government sniping at one another, up to and including a brawl between the two agency chiefs. The Secret Service also exists in that universe.
- Happened in the original, too. There was an episode where CONTROL found out that the CIA, the FBI and Naval Intelligence all had agents on the same case.
- Angel Grove, the setting of the first five seasons of Power Rangers, is generally considered to be the fictional counterpart of Los Angeles. More elaborate theories speculate that the name shift is the result of the show being set in an alternate history where England, rather than Spain, colonized California.
- Also, "NASADA" is a fictional counterpart to NASA in Power Rangers in Space, though NASA seems to also exist at other times in the franchise.
- One of Japan's space agencies is NASDA, so couldn't "NASADA" be NASA + NASDA?
- In the original Doctor Who series, UNIT, the British paramilitary division that investigated alien phenomena, was indisputably stated to be a branch of the United Nations (the acronym standing for United Nations Intelligence Taskforce). The UN, however, complained about having its name associated with the 2005 series, when the Ninth Doctor referred it by the former acronym in "Aliens of London". By series 4 of Doctor Who and series 2 of the spinoff Torchwood UNIT showed a darker side to itself, by this point called the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. This incarnation of UNIT is shown to run secret prisons where suspects are detained indefinitely without trial, possesses a Self-Destruct Mechanism for the entire planet, and generally engages in other activities that the United Nations tends to frown upon.
- In series 1 of the 2005 revival, Rose is shown as working in a department store called Henriks (alternately spelled Hendriks in other shots), another fictionalised variant of Harrods. The logos for the two companies are extremely similar.
- CTU in 24 is either a stand-in for the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, or the DEA, depending on which season you're watching.
- Not to mention Starkwood, which is a shameless copy of Blackwater (the private military company).
- Similarly, Blackthorne in The Unit is also an obvious stand-in for Blackwater.
- In "Report by Exception" in the same show, a fictional (unnamed) Latin American country is probably a stand-in for Venezuela.
- Unnamed fictional counterparts to Premiership teams have appeared a number of times in UK drama.
- Slings and Arrows is set around the New Burbage Festival, a William Shakespeare-oriented theater festival which is a thinly-veiled version of the Stratford Festival of Canada.
- "Calsci", the fictional university in NUMB3RS, is basically Caltech in everything but name — right down to the full names (California Institute of Science vs. California Institute of Technology), and the location (somewhere in Pasadena.) Not surprising, considering several of the show's consultants are Caltech faculty, and some of the show has been filmed there.
- "Pacific Tech" plays the same role in the movie Real Genius, with a number of inside jokes from Caltech.
- "Pacific Tech" also appears in the 1953 The War of the Worlds film and the television series based on it.
- Averted in Jake20, where most of the cast are NSA agents. Of course, it's a highly glamorized NSA, but hey.
- In the original miniseries of The 4400, the lead characters worked for an organization that was called the Department of Homeland Security, but which functioned more like the FBI with its own agents and field offices (the real DHS is a cabinet department that coordinates the efforts of such domestic security agencies as the Customs Service, Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Secret Service, Transportation Security, etc.). Essentially this DHS was itself a Fictional Counterpart of the FBI, and a case of research failure. In subsequent seasons, it was renamed NTAC (National Threat Assessment Command) to correct this.
- Smallville has occasionally featured the Department of Domestic Security (or DDS, which makes it sound like it consists of dentists).
- Ben Browder's character in Farscape was an astronaut for IASA — the replacement for NASA. (NASA was happy to let the show use their name, but wanted to review the scripts; ridiculous, as they were only relevant for the first ten minutes of the entire series. Hence, IASA was born. As Browder says, "IASA, You-asa, My Ass-a."
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: "A Space Oddity": Star Trek has been replaced by a fictional show called Astro Quest. Aside from being a bit over the top, the show is exactly Star Trek with the serial numbers filed off — we're even treated to plot synopses for episodes, which mimic the plots of Trek episodes, down to the dialogue. Reenacted by the Lab Rats.
- Drake & Josh, Zoey 101, iCarly, and any other Dan Schneider comedy uses a whole lot of fictional counterparts to brand names, bands, TV Shows, just look at this list.
- iCarly : The numerous Pear computers, pearpods, etc. as a stand-in for Apple.
- Zoey 101 : The jPhone instead of the iPhone, as well as more of those Pear computers common to all Dan Schneider Nickelodeon shows.
- Reaper: "Work Bench" is Home Depot, or maybe Lowes.
- Chuck : "Buy More" is Best Buy (though they actually originally filmed at a Comp USA), and "Orange Orange" is Orange Julius.
- Orange Orange is more likely a representation of frozen yogurt places like Red Mango or Pinkberry, with its typeface and minimalist decor, as well as the color associations.
- Cancer Man/CSM from The X-Files smoked Morley cigarettes, a stand-in for Marlboro.
- Morley cigarettes first appeared in an episode of Naked City in 1961. Robert Redford's character in 'Tombstone for a Derelict' has a pack, and they turn up later as evidence in a murder.
- Morley's have since been used in a couple of dozen shows, movies and comics according to this page at The Other Wiki.
- Spooks does this a lot. One episode featured Not Robert Kilroy Silk joining Not The BNP.
- Hannah Montana has quite a few of these, as do many other Disney shows.
- In The Good Wife, ChumHum appears to be one for Google. "Whack-a-Mole" adds Scabbit for Reddit.
- The episode "We Are Everyone" features Not Anonymous (the titular Everyone) and Not Pirate Bay (Jamaica Quay). Everyone reappear towards the end of the season.
- In "The Man With The Twisted Lip", a character is involved in smuggling Barnen Delight, a Italian candy egg which is banned in the US because the toy inside has been ruled a choking hazard; an obvious stand-in for Kinder Surprise, using the Swedish word for "children" instead of the German.
- In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), Sea Exhibitions stands in for Sea World.
- In the Canadian cop drama Cracked the fictional Metropolitan Police stand in for the Toronto Police Service.
- In contrast to the V for Vendetta example above, the RPG Fireborn averts this by featuring the BNP by name, but with the reincarnated dragons kung-fuing their way through London you'd be forgiven for not noticing.
- Aberrant has the N! network, which is for Novas what E! is for celebrities in entertainment.
- The people in the Champions Universe drink a lot of Nar-Cola, which (if you look at its logo) is a clear substitute for Pepsi.
- Shien is based on Oda Nobunaga.
- Irou is based on Sasaki Kojiro. In fact, Irou appears in Swallow flip, which refers to a mythical sword technique from Japanese legend, the Tsubame Gaeshi (or the Turning Swallow Cut). The technique was created by Sasaki Kojiro, legendary rival of Miyamoto Musashi.
- Nisashi might be a reference to Miyamoto Musashi; a master swordsman well known for his Niten Style (2 sword combat style). Both the name and two swords are reminiscent of Musashi, and his appearance in Six Style — Dual Wield reinforces this reference.
- Yariza is based on Maeda Toshiie.
- "Hannah Miller's" restaurant in Variable Geo is a fictionalized version of Hawaiian chain "Anna Miller's", Amish (yes, Amish) casual restaurants popular in Japan and Hawaii.
- The Fire Pro Wrestling video game series is populated with Fictional Counterparts of real Professional Wrestling federations from around the world, the rosters of which are composed of No Celebrities Were Harmed versions of real wrestlers.
- Early baseball video games were forced to resort to these, thanks to trademark protections on the names of actual teams. Common examples included the Baltimore "Eagles" and the New York "Americans". In later decades, the actual team names were licensed, putting an end to this process.
- Until EA Sports purchased exclusive licenses to the NFL, forcing other professional football games like All-Pro Football 2K8 to create fictional teams.
- Player names are also licensed for video game and other usages, with most license issues being handled by the league's players association. Sometimes this leads to interesting results, like a game which uses actual team names (because the developer secured the license from the league itself) but made up players (because they didn't license player names from the players association) (Due to NCAA regulations, all games with NCAA teams do this).
- Probably the most interesting player name anomaly focused on San Francisco Giants' left fielder Barry Bonds. Before Bonds's career imploded over his alleged steroids use and resentment over his breaking the MLB career home run record, Bonds had reclaimed the right personally to control use of his name and image in connection with non-baseball projects. Game developers who licensed player names/images from the MLB Players' Association could not use Bonds's name/image without negotiating a separate agreement with him. Many (maybe most) didn't bother, and several baseball video and computer games simply carried a player in the Giants' roster named "The San Francisco Left Fielder", or similar.
- A similar situation occurs with players who are not members of the Major Baseball Players Association. Any player who played during the 1994 work-stoppage is barred from membership in the MLBPA and hence is not a part of any licensing agreement for player names. So these players, who may still be playing baseball (at least up until a few years ago, maybe of them have since retired) are often replaced with a "Joe Everyman" name in the games.
- He's hardly the first. Michael Jordan and Pele were treated similarly when they asserted control over their image.
- In Deus Ex: Invisible War there are two coffee shops, Queequeg's and Pequod's. Starbuck is the first mate in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, Queequeg is the harpoonist and the Pequod is the ship.
- Which is actually rather a subtle Shout-Out, as Queequeg's and Pequod's seem to engage in fierce competition although they are just two brands owned by the same corporation.
- Escape from Monkey Island features "piratised" versions of some well-known chains, like "Starbuccaneers" and "Planet Threepwood".
- Mother 3: The band DCMC is the Fictional Counterpart of AC/DC.
- EarthBound has the Runaway Five, which may not seem to be a Fictional Counterpart; however, in Mother 2, they were known as the Tonzura Brothers. They dressed in black suits, hats and sunglasses. Just like these guys.
- Throughout the Nancy Drew series of PC games, a brand of chocolate bar called 'Koko Kringle' is enjoyed by various suspects and background characters. When Nancy finally gets to eat one in game #17, the unwrapped bar has its name embossed on its surface, closely mimicking the brand names on Hershey bars.
- Koko Kringles could also be considered a Shout-Out or Easter Egg to previous games, considering they were made in Wickford Castle from game number four, which was apparently turned into a candy factory after you solved the mystery.
- Danger by Design, at least, has a tin of "Pricsy Colors", whose tin closely resembles that of some Prisma color boxes.
- The Space Quest series of games tends to require a trip to "Monolith Burger" (the SQ universe's McDonald's) in order to complete the game.
- They also got into legal trouble over an in-game electronics store named Radio Shock — A Dandy Company, parodying Radio Shack, a division of the Tandy Corporation (probably because all of their products were outrageously expensive, with virtually all of them out of stock). Later releases of the game changed the name of the store to Hertz So Good.
- The Fallout series contains a number of these, most prominent amongst them being Nuka-Cola (Coca-Cola) and Chryslus Motors (Chrysler).
- Almost everything in Grand Theft Auto is a fictional counterpart of a real thing, including cars, products, cities, and even the occasional real person.
- Out & About Burger in Backyard Baseball is the fictional counterpart of In-N-Out Burger.
- Left 4 Dead gives us Burger Tank, which looks to operate a lot like most burger places as well as a generic cola with very familiar colors. Also, the pain PEELZ bottle is very clearly based on that of Target brand ibuprofen tablets.
- The "Hotel Oasis" in Modern Warfare 3 is a very obvious copy of the real-life Burj Al Arab in Dubai. This is enforced as said hotel apparently just lets the Big Bad, the game's in-universe Russian equivalent of Osama bin Laden, check in with 50 or so of his terrorist buddies and the developers probably didn't want to get sued by the real hotel.
- Used in Grand Prix Legends when the developers could not gain the rights to use the "Honda" name from the car company, despite the fact that the Honda in question would have been a Formula One car from 1967, or the rights to the long-defunct Cooper team. The Honda became a 'Murasama' and Cooper a 'Coventry'.
- The PriceCo Supermart in Banana-nana-Ninja! is an obvious spoof of Walmart etc. with departments like Black Market Organs, Mortuary, and Casino.
- In Homestar Runner, distinctly Apple-inspired computers are branded as Tandy, which, ironically, was an actual real-world computer brand.
- On We're Alive, Saul and Victor discuss watching [DVDs] of the TV show, "Found," and complain that they'll never find out how it ended.note