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Conspiracy Placement

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"Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated!"
Once an Episode jingle for the villain of Phineas and Ferb

Through secrecy and infiltration, the Ancient Conspiracy has grown powerful. They control the government, big business and religion, they routinely pull off complicated plans and never make a mistake. Still their purposes are best served by remaining hidden from public knowledge, always working from the shadows. Now, they begin their latest diabolical scheme - to display their official logo on every street corner... wait, what!?

Conspiracy Placement is the tendency of fictional (and supposedly not-so-fictional) conspiracies to display hidden clues to their identity where they can be found by the heroes, like Product Placement only coming from an organization that by definition should be trying to avoid exposure. These clues are generally hidden well enough that they will not be spotted by the general public, but you have to wonder what the point is of having such clues at all. Sometimes the story will try to justify the existence of these clues, for example by saying that finding them is a test to gain membership of the group, or a way for conspirators to identify each other, or more for the same reason serial killers leave clues for the cops, but more often it just seems to be showing off. In any case, one usually gets the impression that the best course of action would be to let the nebulous conspiracy run its course, since they're obviously so full of Bond Villain Stupidity that it's only a matter of time before the whole thing collapses in on itself.

This can be considered Truth in Television, for a very loose definition of "Truth". If you look hard enough you can find Illuminati symbols everywhere, or connect anyone you don't like to the number 666. Epileptic Trees abound. There are those who actually believe that real undiscovered, world-controlling conspiracies do this. Though they mostly just "discover" such hidden messages through apophenia, which is where people read connections and meaning into unconnected and meaningless things. This is best demonstrated by putting something like your own name or username through the sorts of processes seen in conspiracy theories or the "Half Life 3 confirmed" meme, such as by putting it through an online anagram generator, converting letters to numbers and then consulting your local numerologist, or perhaps by putting it through some sort of cypher, feeding it through an anagram generator, and then converting the letters to numbers and consulting your local numerologist. You won't believe how easy it is to read anything out of it.

Also worth noting that Complexity Theory (aka Ramsey Theory) is a thing. It's at least as old as Chaos Theory and is the counterpart to it; it states that, given enough data, it is impossible for there not to be some kind of pattern to them.

May overlap with Sigil Spam if the logo placement becomes really excessive. Compare to Neon Sign Hideout when it comes to a lack of discretion.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece has the criminal organization Baroque Works, a conspiracy devoted to overthrowing the country Alabasta. Despite having members who've infiltrated government organizations, a lot of their members have a tattoo with their organization name on it.

    Comic Books 
  • The Invisibles:
    • A secondary character go on about occult imagery in Speed and Pulp Fiction, taking it as a symbol that there are others out there who are on their side. The others don't take it so seriously.
    • On the other hand, Tom O'Bedlam, an urban shaman and Dane's magical mentor, believes cities are sentient and communicate with inhabitants through secret messages. "You ever see the word 'IXAT' reflected in a puddle late at night? That's one of their names..."

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The vampires in the Blade movies use vampiric glyphs to mark their territory. The second movie shows that they've learned something from Blade cutting them up en masse, as the glyphs are much better hidden, even invisible to the naked eye. Specifically, they are painted in ultraviolet colors (which vampires can see, but not humans).
  • The Net has clickable pi links on web pages. Clicking on one pretty much meant you would get hunted down by them. Schmuck Bait at its finest. Though the point of them was that they would open up anything on the web, which meant anything in the world. The bad guys just didn't like it when someone else tried one.
  • In The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, batwinged Cadeuces are tattooed prominently on the wrists of three men in a photo, as well as embossed on a leatherbound book on an investigator's desk. The sigil marks these men as members of a Greco-Roman cult that has managed to spread to northern Ontario circa 1933.

  • Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code both revolved around hidden messages pointing to Ancient Conspiracies. Partially justified in that some of the clues really were intended as puzzles and the clues serve no real purpose except the members of the "conspiracy" find them interesting and amusing. Of course, Dan Brown tries to find information connected to the Holy Grail in completely unrelated things that aren't actually puzzles, but just brief asides that come off as an Author Tract. However, most of the conspiracy theories end up being false, unsubstantiated, or irrelevant in all but a philosophical respect so Brown could just be sharing his outlook on the world and culture.
  • Isaac Asimov's "The Merchant Princes": Members of Korellian Secret Police wear ultraviolet tattoos that say "KSP". Ultraviolet lights are rare on Korell, but Foundation Trader ships record in that light spectrum on a routine basis. Mallow uses this evidence to prove that the so-called Foundation priest was actually a KSP agent trying to trick them into breaking an interstellar treaty.
  • The Illuminatus! Trilogy uses this in multiple places as part of its unholy Mind Screw. For example Landmarking the Hidden Base by hiding the Illuminati headquarters under the UN Headquarters in Manhattan, and sending a insulting message to ex-allies in a rock song.fnord
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon features a secretive underground postal service (which may or may not exist) who are apparently more concerned with spray painting their logo on every wall than they actually are with delivering the mail!
    • They have also (possibly) filled much of the world with their secret postboxes, labelled with the initials of the conspiracy's slogan, in plain sight. Consequently, receptacles marked "WASTE" are everywhere...
  • Parodied with The Areas of My Expertise, where "hobo signs" were really a secret signaling system for the hobo revolution.
  • Appears in R.A. Salvatore's The Cleric Quintet, where all emissaries of highly secret order of Talona, that plans a conspiracy, wear Talona's insignia. Even the lowest rank orks and goblins wear it on their gloves, which makes it simple for heroes to tie in all the bad guys' attacks that seemed unrelated otherwise.
  • Played with in Alexey Pekhov's Pod Znakov Mantikory (Under Mantico Sign), in its very name and plot. The mantico sign appears on the site of a king's general murder, then protagonist finds a mantico jewelry on the necks of mooks who attacked him... And then he discovers the real Mantico Order, and its members do not wear the sign at all.
  • Foucault's Pendulum at least gives a reason: The ancient conspiracy has fragmented into six isolated cells, and they've leaving these clues throughout history trying to reconnect.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Possibly the RNA symbol from Heroes, although to date it has not been explained who is causing that to appear or why. Word of God says that, although it was planned to have this sort of significance, they never got around to plotting it, and it exists now only as a Running Gag.
  • In the first season of the new Doctor Who, the words "Bad Wolf" seemed like this initially until they turned out to be sent back in time by the Time Vortex possessed Rose to guide herself.
  • Torchwood are the epitome of this trope as the most conspicuous secret organization of all time. A now ex-Prime Minister in the Whoniverse's version of Great Britain knows about them, even though she's not supposed to, one of their staff orders pizza under the name "Torchwood" and the Cardiff division as a whole use an SUV with the word Torchwood written on the side, on the roof with bright neon yellow lettering and the initials TW on the front in red neon. Furthermore, at least one conspiracy theorist knows enough about Torchwood to recognize both their car and their staff on sight. As of Torchwood series 2, even a regular pensioner knows who they are. The fact that a Doctor Who episode set in the year 2012 reveals in passing that Torchwood is now a public institution due to its name being used in news broadcasts might constitute Hilarious in Hindsight as it speaks volumes of the organization's inability to keep a secret. However, even early on in the series they're shown as being officially recognised by the police. So it seems more likely that they're not actually trying to keep their entire existence secret, but merely exactly what it is they do.
  • Hydra does this in Season 2 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. It's the reveal of where Simmons works...though, to be fair, this is at least only INSIDE the base.

  • In the Alice Isn't Dead episode "Nothing to See", Humanoid Abomination stalker the Thistle Man pointedly asks the series' Character Narrator if she knows who he works for while gesturing to the word "Thistle" on his uniform polo, obliquely revealing himself as an agent of The Conspiracy that has ensnared the Narrator and her missing wife Alice, though he doesn't elaborate further on his employer's nature.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Pops up in many The World of Darkness variants:
    • Hunter: The Reckoning and Promethean: The Created both use sigils based roughly on "hobo signs" for subtle communication. For the Prometheans, this makes a bit more sense, as a) their condition requires them to constantly be on the move, and b) they have powers that can make the sigils glow for other Prometheans.
    • Geist: The Sin-Eaters has the Twilight Network, a constructed method of communication between Sin-Eaters that relies on web pages, stray radio transmissions, street flyers, and whatever means are available.
    • In Mage: The Awakening, Mage Cabals can place their symbol in locations showing that a particular neighborhood is under their protection as well as what assistance the Cabal can lend to a fellow Mage in need. The symbols are usually Invisible to Normals, so only Awakened can see them.

  • Not a conspiracy per se, but a surprising number of Transformers display their faction symbols in their alternate mode, which somewhat defeats the point of being robots in disguise. In the first wave of toys, most instead had "rubsigns", stickers that would reveal the symbol if warmed up by, for example, a human finger pressed on them.
    • The versions from the live action movies could be looked at like this, as the emblem is hidden in a way that suits this trope, hiding them 'in plain sight' as it were. Barricade's police shields are the most obvious one. Perhaps the most hilarious one in the second movie, the cement truck has the Mack truck dog hood ornament, with its head distorted into a Decepticon emblem.
    • Played with in some instances. Transformers: War for Cybertron Megatron has the gears and panels on his back form the Decepticon logo. It's not immediately obvious. Optimus has his faction on his back too, though his is even less obvious. Also, Vector Prime's head is shaped like the Autobot insignia.

    Video Games 
  • Area 51 plays with this one. A hidden document explains that the conspiracy hides these symbols everywhere precisely because anyone who thinks about it for a second will realise how stupid that is and dismiss the conspiracy theorists as raving crackpots.
  • Metal Gear: The Patriots use Conspiracy Placement as a type of security measure. Those under them (which includes most of the world's population by MGS4) are implanted with nanomachines that censor any mention of the Patriots' name into "La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo".
  • In Anachronox the Dark Servants wore their symbol and put it on all of their ships and such. Even The Mole, Grumpos has the symbol on him, although it is obscured until the final cut scene.
  • In The Conduit, finding the seals of The Trust leads the player to secret caches with One-Hit Kill weapons and arms. Justified in that the seals are Invisible to Normals and can only be seen by the player's ASE.
  • The lambda signs in Half-Life 2 and the Episodes, used by the Resistance to identify where they have stashed supplies. The Orange Box version added a Bragging Rights Reward for finding them all.
  • In Assassin's Creed II, entrances to Templar Lairs are marked by red crosses, but those aren't sufficiently unusual to make them completely obvious. On the other hand, the entrances to Assassin Tombs are marked by wall decorations that look like a skull within a stylized letter A.
  • Cerberus in Mass Effect 2. Their bases, uniforms, equipment and the Normandy SR-2 all have their logo prominently emblazoned, despite being considered a terrorist organization by the authorities. No-one on the Citadel, the seat of Galactic government, will so much as bat an eyelid when you pull into dock in the SR-2 with Cerberus' symbol right there on the nose of the ship.
  • Shandor's cult has a distinctive motif that looks like a gaping-mouthed face (think comedy/tragedy masks). This extends to the machinery on Shandor Island and the Cultist ghosts.
  • The Thieves' Guild of Skyrim uses "shadowmarks": glyphs inscribed in various places all over the map to indicate things like safe houses, escape routes, places with abundant loot, etc.
  • The Secret World. Dear lord, The Secret World. Conspiratorial emblems are everywhere in this game, mostly from the Illuminati, but the Templars, the Dragon, the Council of Venice and the Phoenicians aren't much more subtle. In most cases, these are just ways of marking out territory in areas where The Masquerade is in "mere formality" mode; however, the Illuminati also use their signature pyramid sigil as a means of harnessing occult power, and they will use it at any given opportunity - especially on Solomon Island, where the sigils are used as part of a protective warding spell used to keep out troublesome zombies.
  • The Railroad in Fallout 4 posts "railsigns" showing the locations of allies, dead drops, and other important things.

  • In Sluggy Freelance Chilus's K'Z'K cult is "a secret society trained to hide in the shadows until the perfect moment to strike!" Except, y'know, for every member having the cult's symbol prominently tattooed on their body.
    Chilus: It makes them feel like they belong.
    • Also, Hereti-Corp displays their logo prominently on all their gear and pizza restaurants, justified in order to lure out Oasis, who is programmed to kill anyone wearing it.
      • Of course, she's only programmed to kill people wearing it because they all tend to wear it. It's more justified because it's the cooperation itself is not secret.

    Web Original 
  • All of the front companies for the SCP Foundation have initials that spell out "SCP", like "Soap from Corpses Products, Inc.".
    • Also inverted: for several years, the consensus was that the Foundation didn't have any logo at all, precisely because they're an above-top-secret organisation and there wasn't a point in risking being uncovered by a whistleblower who got their hands on a letterhead. Even after the gear-and-arrows symbol became popular, it was still generally agreed that it's used only internally in strict official capacities.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad! had symbols all over the place for the Peanut Butter Conspiracy episode.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Dr. Doofenshmirtz's evil operation for some reason has its own evil jingle, sponsored a blimp in a racing event, has its own building with its name printed right on it in the downtown area, and several other buildings all branded with his company name or something like that, like "Doofenshmirtz Abandoned Annex Building-K", which sometimes even have their own evil jingles.
    • Of course, the good guys are just as bad at this. Take Perry; yes, secrecy is vitally important, and he goes to great lengths to hide his agent status from his family. But then, as Phineas says "he has his own logo?!?"
    • OWCA, the Organization Without a Cool Acronym, has a sign outside it's facilities stating that it's the Organization Without a Cool Acronym, and that you should ignore this sign.
  • MAD puts either the word MAD or its demonic-cat-face insignia onto EVERYTHING. It's irritating in that Penny's the only one who notices.
  • In Star Trek: Lower Decks William Boimler questions why exactly Section 31, Starfleet's top secret black ops intelligence division, equips its officers with special black colored communicator badges. They just threaten him into dropping the subject.

    Real Life 
  • The "Jesus fish" symbol commonly found on cars was originally used by early Christian congregations (we're talking thousands of years ago here.) The Greek word for "fish", "ihthis", happens to form the acronym Iesous Hristos, Theou Ios, Sotir = Jesus Christ, God's son, savior. Christianity was persecuted back then, so the churches placed the fish symbol on buildings around town: members of the congregation knew to follow these to the current secret meeting place, while those not in the loop just thought someone was doing fish graffiti.
    • And for identifying each other, dragging a foot through the dust in a curve, then having the other person continue it into a fish.
      • There's actually no evidence that this ever happened. It was, however, depicted in the film "The Silver Chalice"
    • A fish is also an appropriate symbol in that four of the Twelve Apostles, Simon-Peter, James, John and Andrew, were all fishermen before they became Jesus's disciples.
  • Also in Real Life, organised crime and hate groups have a tradition of "secret handshakes" and codewords, including the Ku Klux Klan tendency to turn K's and C's in words into KL's. A lot of these practices (such as the Kiss of Death and the Yakuza's method of chopping off fingers to punish failures) have been dropped because they realized what a bad idea it was to advertise their membership.
  • But the Crips and the Bloods avoid their respective enemies' names' first two letters when talking, among other more obvious identifiers.
  • According to Urban Legend (aside from the illuminati symbols), gangs use different methods to mark turf an membership from sneakers thrown on telephone wires to air-fresheners in cars. Of course, seeing what the police can make of gang colours, more covert methods are advised.
  • There was a conspiracy theory that claimed an fake Alien Invasion would happen during the 2012 London Olympics, panicking everyone into a state of emergency and giving up our freedoms so that the New World Order could Take Over the World. The evidence? The logo can be rearranged to spell "ZION", and the mascot-things look like aliens.
  • Biker gangs are perceived by law enforcement agencies as being unique in that unlike The Mafia and most other organised crime syndicates, they make their presence known by maintaining websites, apply for trademarks and hold charity events in an effort to improve their public image. Their modus operandi of operating at an individual basis instead of top-down gives them a degree of Plausible Deniability by claiming that it was a rogue member's fault rather than acting under a chain of command.
  • This used to be a practice with warez groups such as the Phrozen Crew who used to maintain a publicly-accessible website, until a number of law enforcement raids forced those in the scene to go further underground; any warez sites using the names of popular groups like Skidrow are nothing more than poseurs cashing in on their notoriety.