When the heroes cannot directly challenge the villain or his mooks, they disguise themselves as monsters or build something that's basically a tank with a threatening exterior. Usually relies on intimidation more than any actual weapons. When villains resort to this tactic, it's a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax.
A suptrope of Sham Supernatural. Compare and contrast Monster Façade, which is a similarly terrifying act put on by a Gentle Giant or a Reluctant Monster, who would have the strength to actually harm their opponent but prefers not to. See also Weapon for Intimidation. Compare El Cid Ploy, where the nonexistent threat is the heroes' dead or absent leader.
- Pompoko: To chase the humans away, the tanuki launch "Operation Specter", during which they shapeshift into ghosts, monsters and youkai and march on the streets to make the humans believe the place is haunted.
- Dr. Stone: The kingdom of science must rescue a friend from a jail guarded by the kingdom of might, but can't injure any of the guards or else ruin a possible alliance. Senku builds a functioning tank but replaces the gun with an air cannon that makes a huge sound, causing the guards to run in terror instead of try to fight.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- A repeatedly used plot element in lesser Donald Duck comics — a variant involves making some idol worshiped by primitive people appear to speak and tell them to stop roasting the heroes or whatever.
- The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck from Don Rosa — the first chapter when Scrooge scares the Whiskerville away by making a fake ghost. They were so scared that, years later, all the Whiskervilles have white hair (their first appearance showed them black and brown haired, so it wasn't a family trait before that).
- One Sam & Max: Freelance Police story ("Monkeys Violating the Heavenly Temple") has Max about to be used as a sacrifice for a volcano cult. Sam tries this trope, covering himself in mud to ape the volcano god the cult worships. Not only are the cultists not fooled, they beat the stuffing out of Sam.
- Fables uses a psychological Anti-Hero version when a reporter discovers the Fables' (fairytale characters who are actually real) society, though with the belief that they're vampires. Ultimately they kidnap him and trick him into believing they are indeed vampires who have tasted his blood and will control him into committing suicide along with publishing pictures painting him as a child molester (staged with the help of a 300-year-old Pinocchio) should he ever release his discovery. The reporter gets scared out of his mind and complies, but is ultimately killed a few days later by one of the more evil fables acting on his own.
- One of the few books Red Sonja ever experienced in-universe was The Tales of Gravaha the Clever, where the heroine dresses a field of cornstalks as an army to intimidate a foe with terrible eyesight.
- Scooby-Doo! Team-Up: The Top Cat crossover features two realtors whose project threatens the local suburbs. Since what they're doing isn't illegal, no matter how despicable they are, Officer Dibble pulls the Bedsheet Ghost trick to get rid of them. It takes some time to convince them it's a real ghost since Top Cat had previously tried the trick to keep his illegal gambling operation a secret and dressing up as a ghost is the first thing they teach at realtor school and, when they're finally convinced, they flee not in fear of the ghost itself but of how unprofitable the land they want becomes because of it.
- In The Unknown Supergirl, Supergirl spots a pack of smugglers escaping from the coastguard, but she cannot let herself be seen. So she rips a sunken ship's figurehead off and waves the dragon-like head and neck out of the water. Frightened, the smugglers turn tail and flee back into the arms of the sea patrol.
Coast Guard: "You almost got away! What made you come back?"
Smuggler 1: "T-the demon from the ocean's depths..."
Smuggler 2: "Awp! IT's only a figurehead off an ancient ship! We panicked like dummies!"
Coast Guard: "Superman probably tossed it up from the ocean's floor, so you'd turn back and be captured!"
- This is the modus operandi of The Phantom. The natives of his home country think he's an immortal personification of justice and protection, when he's actually the great-great-great (and so on) grandson of the original Phantom, with a Charles Atlas Superpower. Stories generally climax with him using a Scarecrow Solution to convince criminals that he's immortal.
- During his quest to save nine potential victims in La Ballade des Dalton has one of them, Tom O' Connor who is conveniently a miner stage a convincingly spooky show as his ghost to make his would-be-killers scared out of their limited wits and flee.
- The Land Before Time, the original, four of the dinosaur children cover themselves in tar and pile on top of each other to save Cera from a group of aggressive Pachycephalosaurus.
- A Bug's Life, the fake bird. The solution part is subverted because the villains see the trick (thanks to P.T. Flea setting it on fire), but it is for the better, because the ants finally find the courage to rebel against the grasshoppers and send them packing for good as a more permanent solution. Also, the scarecrow was still vital to this turn of events, because it helped them consider the possibility in the first place, that the grasshoppers are not unbeatable. And then it's subverted again when Hopper comes face-to-face with what looks like another fake bird, only to discover that it's quite real, and has hungry chicks to feed.
- In Pom Poko, the tanuki attempt to save their home from urban development by shapeshifting into ghosts and monsters and parading down the streets to scare the humans away. It backfires when the humans mistake it for a publicity stunt for an amusement park.
- Land of Oz:
- Ironically, in The Wizard of Oz, the great and powerful Oz uses a big, scary flaming head to persuade Dorothy and her friends to get the Wicked Witch of the West's broomstick... until Toto pulls the curtain aside, and the Wizard is shown to be much shorter than his façade made him out to be, and when confronted, he confesses that he was just as afraid of the Wicked Witch and it was such demonstrations of power that kept her at bay.
- Oz does exactly the same thing in the climax of Oz the Great and Powerful to scare off the Wicked Witches.
- "The Dread Pirate Roberts" rig that Fezzik wears in The Princess Bride— a holocaust cloak that is set on fire without burning him. It scares off all sixty guards, leaving just Yellin, at which point they switch to more direct intimidation:
Westley: Give us the gate key.Yellin: I have no gate key.Inigo: Fezzik? Tear his arms off.Yellin: Oh, you mean this gate key.
- Rolli Amazing Tales: When Rölli and the Forest Fairy discover Seesteinen and Lerkkanen littering and making noise in their forest, they disguise themselves as a giant in a Totem Pole Trench style and attempt to scare the humans away. It fails nearly immediately because the "giant" and its threats provided by Rölli confuse the humans more than scare them, and the quilt worn by the two heroes falls off. However, while Seesteinen and Lerkkanen chase the duo, they run into the Big Rölli who really scares them.
- In Star Wars, Obi-Wan first appears by scaring away some Sand People who were about to kill Luke. He does this by dressing up in his old Jedi robes and making some weird-sounding monster noises, causing them to flee in terror. According to the associated materials, the sound he's making is that of the Krayt Dragon.
- Implied in Bugsy Malone, as late into the film, after Fat Sam has lost most of his henchmen, we see him set up cardboard cutouts in his office, casting silhouettes on the outside wall.
- In Lady Ninja Kaede, Yumeama uses a ninja technique to pose as Koharu's ghost and scare a confession out of Kichiemon.
- Kehaar in Watership Down, albeit only halfway intentionally great coincidental timing on his, Bigwig's, and the weather's part make it appear to the Efrafans that the bird was summoned out of lightning by Bigwig.
- Another early example features in Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, when the protagonist dresses up as a dead sailor's ghost to scare mutineers into abandoning ship.
- Doctor Syn ("The Scarecrow") is a vicar with a Secret Identity. Dressing as a scarecrow definitely has the secondary benefit of being a bit scary.
- Galaxy of Fear has a book where a Jedi ghost repeatedly terrifies Tash to try and spook her away from a threat, because until near the book's end she is only vaguely aware of him and can't understand what he says. He can't actually do anything to her, but it seems like it for a while.
- The Little Golden Book The Lively Little Rabbit has the rabbits and an owl build a long dragon costume out of tree bark and leaves, with all of the rabbits underneath it and the owl's wings protruding. It's a surprisingly awesome-looking dragon. It succeeds in scaring away the mean old fox.
- The Cordwainer Smith story "Golden the Ship Was— Oh! Oh! Oh!".
- In "Imprint of Chaos", the first story in The Traveller in Black by John Brunner, the protagonists build a giant scarecrow-puppet-thing to scare off a god. (It wasn't a very smart god.)
- In one of the Babar books, Babar defeats the rhinoceros army by disguising the elephants as monsters, painting giant eyes on their backsides and putting bushy wigs on their backs.
- Romance of the Three Kingdoms sees Zhuge Liang combine this with Thanatos Gambit. After his death, he has the Shu army set up a wooden statue of him, and then luring Wei's army into the main camp. Upon arrival at Shu's base, Sima Yi then saw the statue, and panicked, thinking Zhuge Liang to still be alive, causing him to retreat.
Chinese proverb: A dead Zhuge scares away a living Sima.
- A story in More Adventures of the Great Brain has Tom determined to find out the truth of a ghost haunting a mine where two children had died. He gets his brother and sheriff uncle to find out it's a local farmer who's putting on the act to scare kids away to avoid some further tragedies. Tom wants to tell the truth but his uncle agrees with the farmer and makes Tom and his brother claim they saw the ghost to ensure kids don't come to the mines.
- In the The Adventures of Superman episode "Great Caesar's Ghost!", Perry White starts seeing Caesar's ghost. This turns out to be a trick by a gang of crooks to ruin his credibility as a witness in an upcoming trial. Superman turns the trick around on the gangsters, disguising himself as another criminal who had been killed by the gang, causing them to give up in terror when their bullets apparently just go right through the "ghost".
- Doctor Who: In "The Girl Who Died", part one of the plan to defeat the Mire involves altering what they see through their video interface, so that a ship's figurehead becomes a terrifying sea serpent and so on. Part two involves taking a video of the proud warrior race cowering in fear from obvious puppets, and threatening to effectively upload it to Space YouTube to ruin their reputation.
- When Bo and Luke were mistakenly declared to have drowned on The Dukes of Hazzard, they faked a haunting by coating the General Lee with glow-in-the-dark paint and having Cooter rig it to run by remote control, using it to intimidate Boss Hogg to prevent him from blaming them for a theft. Subverted in that Boss Hogg isn't fooled for more than a few moments, and immediately suspects Cooter's involvement.
- Serenity herself was used in such a fashion in a Firefly teaser.
Wash: Every man go back inside, or we will blow a new crater in this little moon.
Jayne: [later] Damn yokels, can't even tell a transport ship ain't got no guns on it.
- On McHale's Navy, the crew of the PT-73 fake their deaths and come back dressed as ghosts to scare Binghamton into tearing up the orders that were going to get them all transferred.
- Used occasionally by the IMF in Mission: Impossible. "Banshee" features perhaps the fullest embodiment of the trope as the plan hinges entirely on convincing the villain that he is being stalked by the souls of those he has killed.
- Murder, She Wrote: In "Night of the Tarantula", Jessica fakes a murder victim rising as a zombie in order to spook to killer into revealing that he knew the location of a secret passage: something only the killer could have known.
- In an episode of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, a pair of kids use a Bedsheet Ghost to scare away a claim jumper.
- Zorro: Trying to catch an unjustly accused man, who's taken sanctuary in the church of a monastery, Commander Monastario invades the place with his soldiers under the fake threat of an Indian attack. The monastery is so well-guarded that Zorro almost gets caught trying to reach the prisoner. So, Don Diego spreads the rumor of the ghost of a mad monk roaming the grounds by talking to the impressionable Sergeant García. Later that night, Zorro disguises as the ghost and scares all the soldiers into fleeing, leaving Monastario alone.
- Dragon Quest XI: When their mother is unwillingly selected for a Human Sacrifice, Atsuo and Atsuko disguise themselves using an Ursa minor hide and antlers to keep anyone from finding the hiding spot they and their mother have on Mount Huji.
- Fallout 2: One settlement you can find has a bunch of "corpses" staked out in front of it. If your Medicine skill is high enough, you can realize that the corpses are fakes upon examining them, then search for the people who set them up. They turn out to be peaceful folk who were terrified of being attacked by raiders or slavers and made the display in order to frighten anyone from coming there.
- Limbo (2010): Not long into the forest level, you see some more of those dreaded Giant Spider legs poking out from a nearby tree - but they're a fake. The hostile humans in the area set them up to scare you away.
- Paper Mario 64: When Mario reaches the east-most end of Shiver Snowfield, he runs into a shadowy creature called Monstar who warns him to turn back or be eaten. But Monstar is really weak during the battle, having only 20 HP (the boss at the end of the previous chapter had 60) and only hitting 1 HP per attack. It turns out to be a bunch of Star Kids who disguised themselves to keep Starborn Valley safe.
- In Scooby-Doo, though it's often the villain who does this to scare away the Damsel in Distress from a Real Estate claim, etc., the heroes often use this technique as well.
- Gabe/Toxic Terror from What's New, Scooby-Doo? is a good one. In fact, the next to final scene has Gabe, Shaggy, Scooby-Doo, and the camp kid disguise them as Toxic Terrors and sending Clyde packing.
- Velma Dinkley, the brains of Mystery Inc. itself, does this in Scooby-Doo! in Where's My Mummy?.
- Amy Cavenaugh/Amy The Siren from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is another good one — especially since she got Velma hooked.
- Later in Mystery Incorporated, the Mystery Inc. gang create the Krampus to distract the real villains from their plan to steal their segments of the season's MacGuffin.
- The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Painted Lady". After the Gaang accidentally makes things worse, they decide to use this solution to correct their mistake and scare a corrupt Fire Nation army out of the small village they were persecuting: Toph, Sokka and Appa create fog and an overall ominous and creepy atmosphere, while Katara dresses up as the Painted Lady herself, with help from Aang regarding her powers.
- The Venture Bros. episode "Escape to the House of Mummies Part II". Dr. Venture, sitting on Brock's shoulders and dressed in a green blanket, waves a flashlight at cultists to save Hank and Dean. It doesn't work:
Cultist: That's just a flashlight. Kill them!
- My Little Pony 'n Friends: In a "Glo Friends" segment, they put to action a plan, orchestrated by the long-suffering henchcrow Rook, to get back at their enemies the Moligans, by making them think that there was a giant Glo monster who would get them, if they kept threatening them forcing them to serve them for a while.
- Hurricanes: In "Phantom Fan", Stavros Garkos sends Wyn and Genghis to a stadium he wants to buy so they'll prevent a fund-raising game to take place. The heroes scare them away by pretending to be the titular Phantom.
- During World War I, a number of old British cargo ships were fitted with wooden turrets and superstructures, and painted to resemble battleships. The goal was to deceive Germany about the true numbers and disposition of Royal Navy forces. The charade was literally blown up when one such ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and exploded: the U-boat captain, who thought that he sunk the British battleship, was quite dismayed when he found "gun turrets" floating in the surrounding water.
- During World War II, the British repeated this trick, this time by refitting some old tankers to look like aircraft carriers.
- The British also refitted Centurion, an old disarmed battleship used as a radio-controlled gunnery target, to looks like modern battleship Howe, and sent it to Egypt. The trick worked; the Italian Navy was deceived into thinking that the Royal Navy had reinforced the Mediterranean Fleet with a new, powerful unit, and did not act— while actually the Mediterranean Fleet was critically weakened at that moment, with both its actual battleships disabled by the successful efforts of Italian frogmen.
- Later, Centurion was scuttled as a part of artificial harbor during the Normandy landing (D-Day) in 1944. When the empty hulk of the ship was towed into position and prepared to be scuttled, German coastal guns noticed her and put it under fire. Centurion promptly "sunk", with only one lifeboat leaving the ship (carrying away all its small skeleton crew). The Germans, who did not knew that, boasted that they sunk the British battleship with a great loss of life.
- The American Civil War included the "Quaker Guns", dummy cannons that were really just painted logs, employed by both sides occasionally and used successfully by the Confederacy a few times.
- During the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Army created a special force of artists, painters, and carpenters whose purpose was to quickly create wooden mock-ups of tanks, guns, train stations, and airfields with planes, to decoy the Germans about the real amount and disposition of Red Army forces. Analysis of captured German archives after the war revealed that the Germans never suspected that they had been duped.
- World War II:
- Operation Fortitude, used by the Allies to conceal their true intentions of where they were invading France in World War II, included the use of dummy inflatable "tanks" that deceived German intelligence into thinking the Allies had a couple of extra armored divisions in reserve.
- According to one US Major, Edward Lansdale, he and his men took advantage of a local myth of the vampiric Awsang by borrowing a tactic the Filipinos did and pucturing twice captured enemies' and bleeding them out to make it seem like an aswang got him.
- The Russian army remained very fond of such decoys in modern days, producing a large number of inflatable dummies of military equipment, like tanks, planes, army tents, missile systems, etc. Those dummies are designed to imitate not only optical appearance, but also radar signature (due to use of miniature corner reflectors and metallic surfaces) and infrared signature (by installing portable heaters).