The Confusing Press Release for the new Bond No. 9 Perfume: White Musk vs. Asian Deer Musk

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I received a press release from the Bond No. 9 people a few days ago about the upcoming debut of a signature oud-based scent they’re calling Bond No. 9 Perfume. Buried within the standard boilerplate prose about artistry and precious ingredients was the statement below:

“Bond No. 9 Perfume contains four superbly harmonious East/West ingredients–the fewest of any Bond No. 9 fragrance (but no more were needed). Representing the Eastern world is earthy, sultry oud. Playing up against it is the rose, that epitome of refined sweetness, treasured in both the Middle East and the New World. Tonka beans from South America add to the heat with its caramel-almond flavor, while musk, from the Asian musk deer, further underscores oud’s carnal nature.”

My brain balked at the “while musk, from the Asian musk deer” bit. My immediate thought was, “Bond No. 9 is using natural musk harvested from live Asian musk deer?” The reason behind the brain-balk is that #1) live harvested musk from Asian musk deer is exceptionally rare (musk deer are usually killed to obtain the musk), and #2) Asian deer musk is considered one of the most expensive natural animal ingredients available on the market, which makes it a highly unlikely candidate for inclusion in a commercially produced, mass-market fragrance.

Not to mention that “musk, from Asian musk deer” conjures bad PR associations with poachers:

“Though laws exist to conserve the deer in much of its range, recent studies suggest that the illegal trade in musk glands (or musk pods) is dangerously threatening populations of the deer in Russia and Mongolia. According to ongoing surveys by TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring network, and WWF, a conservation organization, 17,000 to 20,000 musk deer stags could be killed in Russia each year to supply the trade . . . That figure is perhaps five times the number of musk deer hunted and traded legally within Russia.”

Ouch. Not necessarily the image a company wants consumers to associate with a brand new, about to be released, signature luxury fragrance product.

I emailed the Bond No. 9 people, questioning them about their musk — is it really genuine Asian deer musk, and if it is, can they state with certainty that it was harvested legally, that the musk deer was not harmed in the process, from which farms did they obtain their deer musk, etc. I quickly received a reply which glossed over almost every single one of my questions, essentially treating my email as if it emerged from the mind of a man who was just one small step away from raving lunacy. But the PR woman tipped me off that something was amiss when she wrote the following sentence:

“All major fragrance houses use white musk oil in the creation of fragrances, but do not kill animals for the production of perfumes.”

Ah, “white musk” . . . !

Neither the PR release, or the subsequent PR email, included the word “white” in the phrase “while musk, from the Asian musk deer” . . . so when I sent an email back questioning this point, I received a reply that the PR release was indeed in error and should have included the word “white” (“white musk” is industry code for a type of synthetic musk).

From Wikipedia: “Synthetic musks, known as white musks in the perfume industry, are a class of synthetic aromachemicals created by chemist and fragrance companies to emulate the scent of natural musk. Synthetic musks have a clean, smooth and sweet scent lacking the fecal/”animalic” notes of natural musks and are sometimes attributed as having notes of blackberry, ambrette or ambergris . . . Most, if not all musk fragrance used in perfumery today is synthetic.”

Now, I still don’t like the phrasing, even when including the word “white”, since it continues to imply that the musk is obtained directly from the Asian musk deer. For example: “while white musk, from the Asian musk deer . . . “ breezily gives the impression that the musk is a naturally harvested material when it’s actually synthesized in a flavor and fragrance production facility. So it’s misleading, even though it could possibly be passed off as just overly ambiguous rather than deceptive.

I don’t understand why Bond No. 9 couldn’t have just stated: “while white musk, a specialized oil inspired by the prized natural musk harvested from the Asian musk deer” . . . or something like that. It would have avoided any and all unnecessary confusion.

But really, it’s the 21st century, right? So why are PR employees still roping in a gaggle of unsuspecting Asian musk deer to give their synthetic white musk a sheen of natural respectability, anyway?

If the synthetic “white musk” isn’t good enough to warrant its own high puffery, then for god’s sake, don’t use it in a fragrance formula — but if it *is* a quality oil that can more than hold its own, then be loud and proud about it. Behaving any other way makes it seem as if there’s something about the fragrance that a company’s owners/employees might possibly be ashamed of.

And that’s not very good PR.

A bonus video clip below of a musk deer in the wild:

And finally, a link to a 2001 reference paper about musk deer farming in China that mentions the problems with lax enforcement of musk deer farming regulations and the difficulty of obtaining live harvests of any significant volume: Musk Deer Farming as a Conservation Tool in China

UPDATE (09/30/09):

I received the following email from Bond No. 9 this morning:

“Hi Nathan — All musk used in US perfumery is synthetic. The musk used in the Bond No. 9 perfume smells like Asian deer musk, but it is no longer harvested from the animal. The press release is being corrected.”

As a consumer, I want to know that companies are being honest with me and representing their products accurately. I appreciate that Bond No. 9 has come to the conclusion that portraying the musk in Bond No. 9 Perfume as some kind of exotic, rare and exorbitantly expensive natural animal musk may have sounded like a good idea in a marketing meeting, but is (in the harsh light of reality) genuinely confusing for consumers who are trying to make the best decisions they can about what products they want to purchase and which companies they wish to support.

Granted, I don’t yet have the corrected PR material in hand, and it will be interesting to see if the company openly/publicly acknowledges the correction and/or sends it out to all parties who received the original press release; nonetheless, an admission of the need for greater transparency from company to consumer is a good first step.

UPDATE (10/08/09):

It’s been 10 days, and no correction has yet been offered from Bond No. 9. If they were at all serious about disseminating the proper informati
on to consumers, they would have issued an immediate correction.

It really doesn’t take ten days to write: “We were mistaken when we stated that the musk in our Bond No. 9 perfume came from the Asian musk deer. The musk we use in our fragrance is synthetic rather than natural, and we apologize for implying otherwise.”

There, see how easy that was? It took three minutes, tops.

UPDATE (03/28/10):

It’s been over five months, the release for their Bond No. 9 signature fragrance came and went, and there wasn’t a single correction issued by Bond, or any public explanation as to why their original PR material was so misleading.

From what I understand, this type of unaccountable behavior is typical of the Bond No. 9 perfume company (their “Contest to Design a Brooklyn Bottle”, for instance, in which the deadline for announcing a winner came and went and no design was ever selected and no winner was ever announced), which is why I won’t be purchasing any of their products again. There are plenty of honest and worthwhile fragrance companies that are far more deserving of financial support.

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