Monday, October 18, 2010


How we look.
How we smell.
Personal branding.

Personal branding may be loosely organized entirely to suit ourselves.
For some it is purposefully engineered towards a specific communication to others.

Personal smell, whether conscious or unconscious, is a choice and a statement.
It communicates in a variety of ways.
And it goes far deeper than the contrived modern notion of personal branding

To illustrate, I have chosen some well known animals, some predators, others quite shy, secluded, and retiring, who all use personal fragrance (and the lack of it) for very specific reasons.

When a fawn is born, it has almost no scent on it, therefore, reducing the chance of attracting predators. Its instinct is to lie down in an area and hardly move until the doe returns to feed it.

“The doe has scent which could attract predators to the area, therefore, once the fawn is fed she will leave the area until it is feeding time again. The doe will only go to the fawn if she believes it is safe. It is not unusual for a doe to leave the fawn for several hours, especially if there is a lot of human or other activity in the area.” (New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game)

The Indian civet, Viverra zibetha, lives from Indochina to southern China and is also found in Nepal, Bangladesh, the Malay Peninsula, Hainan, and Vietnam.

Civets are territorial and mark their territories with excretions from their anal glands, an excruciatingly stinky substance that is highly prized by perfumers.

Interestingly, they’re also connoisseurs of the coffee bean. “Costing hundreds of dollars a pound, these beans are found in the droppings of the civet, a nocturnal, furry, long-tailed catlike animal that prowls Southeast Asia’s coffee-growing lands for the tastiest, ripest coffee cherries. The civet eventually excretes the hard, indigestible innards of the fruit — essentially, incipient coffee beans — though only after they have been fermented in the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes to produce a brew described as smooth, chocolaty and devoid of any bitter aftertaste”, according to NORIMITSU ONISHI’s article in the New York Times.

The Siberian musk deer (Moschus moschiferus) is a musk deer found in the mountain forests of Northeast Asia, and in parts of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Manchuria and the Korean peninsula.

The male deer has a musk pouch (located between the sex organs and the navel) that releases a scent that is believed to be a signal to attract a mate. During the breeding season, he produces musk, which mixed with its urine, gives it a pink colour and the strong musk smell that is believed to stimulate the female to begin oestrus.

Natural and laboratory made musks, like civet, are used as components in fine perfumes.

But the musk deer uses fragrance in other ways as well:

“During the autumn and winter, communal defecation sites, and their associated scents, are used to help the deer communicate with one another. Scent is also an important indicator of the male Siberian musk deer's territory, which may cover up to 300 hectares and is marked out by wiping thick, yellow, strong-smelling secretions of the caudal gland on surrounding vegetation. The male's territory usually contains the feeding ranges of between one to three females and generally, weaker or smaller males will not attempt to enter into it, but on occasions that they do, fighting may ensue.” (Mulder)

Housecats are well known for their “scentsual” behaviors. Having scent glands on their feet, lips, cheeks, face, and tail, when the cat is rubbing against you she’s defining you as “hers”.  Kitty also uses scent to direct territorial aggression toward other cats (or new furniture) by spraying urine. She also uses scent to advertise her breeding status.

“When a cat curls back its upper lip and looks like it's sneering, it has just discovered an interesting, unusually intense odor and is smelling it more deeply. Called "flehming," it is drawing the odors into an organ (Jacobson's organ), in the roof of its mouth.” Glenda Moore)


A gray wolf in the snow
Photograph by Joel Sartore

Wolves, the ultimate predator at the top of the food chain, are territorial and defend their territory through vocalizations and scent marking.

A wolf’s 'scent marks' serve as messages, and provides warnings.

A wolf 'scent rolls' to promote interaction with other pack members.

“Scent plays a very important role in the life of the wolf, by smell alone wolves can locate prey, other pack members or enemies. It can tell them if other wolves were in the territory, if they were male or female, and how recently they visited.

“The wolf has several specialized glands, one around the anus and another on its back about 3 inches in the front of the base of its tail. The scent from these glands is as individualistic as are out fingerprints and is used by that particular wolf as its personal calling card. These Glands are used as to mark boundaries and also to mark trails. These "Scent Stations" are often 100 yards apart.

“Wolves have been known to paw or scratch the ground or trees, this may release odors from glands in the paws or as visual markers to pack members and other wolves. Alpha males will use Raised-leg urination primarily, Female and subordinate males use the squat-position. Females wolves also scent mark less than males.

“The Alpha wolf will direct urine at stumps, rocks, or trees this marks the packs presents to the members of the pack and other wolves. Wolves from rival packs may mark over the existing scent mark to obscure its odor. The marks may also be used as a boundary or fence post acting as a direction system.

The wolf use scent to mark territory, establish position of site of a kill and other factors within the pack.” (

“Scent rolling is the act of pressing the body against a strong-smelling object or scent. This behavior
usually begins with the wolf pushing a cheek against the object, and then sliding on it until the side
of the chest has cleared the object. The wolf will likely stand and repeat the process several times
on each side of the body.

“Wolves commonly perform this behavior with any strong or unique-smelling object within their territory,
such as a smelly carcass (food), urine or feces from another animal outside the pack, or any other
pungent odor encountered that is not a regular scent within their territory.

“Many visitors ask why wolves and subsequently their dogs perform such a behavior. For wolves, the
answer is simple: olfactory camouflage. We believe wolves are essentially transferring the scent of
the different odor to their bodies so when hunting their prey may not smell wolf, rather the benign
rolled-upon scent, when in close proximity of the hunting pack. This camouflage has obvious benefits
for hunting wolves, as they may be able to gain closer access to their prey. Another theory for evolution
of scent rolling is to transfer the scent of the rolling wolf onto the object chosen, thus "marking" it as
an item within their territory. Gray wolves likely utilize both of these advantages as a motivation to
perform scent rolling." (Jeremy Heft)

Taking our cue from the animal kingdom, it seems that whether our predilection is to hide, to camouflage, or to assert dominance; and when it comes down to being playful, advertising sexuality, setting boundries, identifying ownership, leaving a calling card, or just being plain old friendly, using scent or absence of scent to communicate it is pretty darn useful.

Brand On!

Mulder, J. 1999. "Moschus moschiferus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed October 17, 2010 at