Marketing people work hard (mostly) to ensure that the standout features of their merchandise really stand out and get to be known by that product's target audience. That, I suppose is the idea of marketing people – to help potential end users identify the aspects of the product that are particularly beneficial.
Finding a benefit that is unique to that product is the marketeer's job, but achieving 'go-to' status for their product, for a feature or function that everyone wants, is the marketeer's idea of Christmas, birthday and Hanukkah all rolled into one.
In the current market it is easy to identify cameras that stand out for a feature that exceeds what is offered by the competition – however specialised the demand for that benefit might be. Right now, perhaps the Sony A7R is the 'go-to' for people who want a small camera that features a full-frame sensor. Panasonic's Lumix GH4 is the affordable 4K video solution for people wanting an interchangeable lens system body. Nikon's D800E is surely the synonym for portable high-resolution in a DSLR, and Fuji's X-T1 the camera if it's cool retro-styling you are after.
Force-fed facts and figures
These standout features are no accident - they don't come about only when the customer identifies these traits and tells his or her friends. They come about because the products are designed to have these highly attractive features, and we are informed of them in a relentless stream of publicity the moment the product is launched. As a consequence, it is the outstanding feature that we all come to know about first and that with which we associate the camera for evermore. Amen.
What was the first thing Pentax told us about the 645Z? That it has 54 million pixels. The first thing that Sony made us know about the RX100 III? That it has an f/1.8 lens. And the first thing that Samsung let us know about the NX3000 was that it has a flip-over screen so we can all shoot selfies – for better or for worse.
A chip on the polished block
The first thing that Leica drummed into our heads about its new T camera wasn't that it has a touchscreen that is as sensitive as an iPhone's, or that it has a 16MP CMOS APS-C sensor, or even that with an adapter it can play host to most of Leica's L and M manual focus lenses that go back almost 90 years. No, the first thing, and in many cases the only thing, that most of us knew/know about Leica's new AF system was that the body is milled from a single block of aluminium.
The second fact was probably that it takes one person 45 minutes to polish it.
It is typical of Leica to approach the market in its own special way, and to place its priorities with unique thinking, but how important is it actually, for photographic purposes, that the camera is made from a solid block of metal, and not a screwed together jigsaw like most of them?
My point is that the thing the Leica T has become known for, apart from 'The Most Boring Advert in the World' that shows in real-time a man polishing the chassis for 45 minutes (which actually isn't as boring as it sounds), is that the camera is made from a solid block of metal.
What Leica has failed to communicate though, is the reason why: a fact which could be considered somewhat more important, even if much less sensational.
Is Leica promoting and recommending the camera's best feature? No, definitely not. Is that really the angle that is going to sell the Leica T? Well, yes, sadly it may well be. It has certainly got the camera plenty of attention and coverage in even the non-photographic press, and focusing on the extravagant elements of its build will actually appeal to those who are most likely to buy it.
Leica T owners are unlikely to be 'normal' photographers and not the same targets that Canon and Nikon go after. And that is exactly what Leica is banking on. However odd the angle, it is one conceived by an extremely perceptive person.
In London's Mayfair Leica Store, on the day of the announcement, I saw the sales team laying out the new display cabinet for the T, delicately arranging a block of aluminium next to the camera in accordance with drawings from head office. Only half joking, I asked how much the block was going to be. I got a fully-not-joking answer that it wasn't for sale. That's actually the madness - I'm certain there are plenty of Leica users who would buy the block to go with their camera – and some collectors who would buy it instead.
I wonder how long it will be before we see counterfeit blocks on the market, claiming to originate from the brother of a cousin of someone who works in the factory at Wetzlar.