New Sony LinkBuds target Gen Z by bridging the physical world and the metaverse
The thawing of pandemic-era lockdowns has led to a mass craving for experiences in the physical world. At the same time, the metaverse beckons. Sony’s new LinkBuds are being positioned as the intermediary — or the portal — between the two.
Sony has just announced the launch of the new LinkBuds
Sony Electronics has unveiled LinkBuds, a new wireless headphone that represents — both literally and figuratively — the increasingly porous boundary between the physical world and the virtual. The new headphones are specifically being targeted to Gen Zers, many of whom are easily recognizable by their tendency to wear Bluetooth headphones virtually everywhere and at all times — a generational trait that Sony is looking to leverage.
The new headphones are being marketed as a kind of portal — an analogy which fits nicely with the product's ring, or “donut” shape — between the physical world and the growing virtual world. They incorporate a variety of new features which are intended to make it easier for users to wear their headphones in public and when interacting with other people, as many Gen Zers are especially wont to do. They are, in the words of Emily Ewing, a public relations specialist at Sony, “an always-on product that really links your online and offline worlds.” Whereas many Bluetooth headphones are judged by their ability to isolate the user in a soundproof zone, the LinkBuds provide a means for the user to slip seamlessly in and out of their private and public worlds. “For example,” Sony said in a statement, “Adaptive Volume Control automatically optimizes volume based on users’ locations, letting music seamlessly blend with the environment. This allows customers to enjoy a comfortable volume in a variety of environments to enhance the open-air listening experience.”
Sony is leaning heavily into excitement about the metaverse and virtual reality, which lately has been spreading through the zeitgeist at a rapid clip. In the first ad spot developed for the headphones, we see a blue-haired 20s-something put LinkBuds into his ears, at which point his field of vision is augmented with a virtual interface displaying texts from friends — more or less the sort of hypothetical experience that most people would imagine when they hear the phrase “augmented reality.”
Our protagonist walks a few paces before literally jumping through a circular portal, which leads him to an otherworldly plane of existence, akin to the sorts of virtual landscapes that one might find themselves in after donning an Oculus Quest 2. It’s important to clarify that the new Sony headphones do not come with any sort of virtual reality or augmented reality features, though one could be forgiven for getting that impression after watching the aforementioned spot. The AR-VR imagery appears to be more of a nod to Gen Z’s growing affinity for the metaverse, and also possibly to the brand’s future plans for such technologies, than an actual representation of what the LinkBuds actually do.
To get some buzz going around the new product, Sony is launching an Instagram sweepstakes, a TikTok challenge, and partnerships with several social media influencers to extend the product’s appeal and reach among Gen Zers.
The timing of the announcement of the new headphones is also significant. As we gradually emerge from the forced isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have naturally gravitated towards opportunities to interact with other people face-to-face; at the same time, the growing virtual space is alluring and beginning to beckon. As these parallel phenomena unfold, consumers may increasingly come to favor those products that allow them to move between the two as seamlessly as possible. “There's two sides of it,” says Ewing. “People really do want to keep that virtual world that they've created during the pandemic. But as things become a little bit more opened up, they want to have that in-person connection.”