Whilst reading Fire In The Valley I came across the following, discussing how companies placed mail order adverts for products that did not as of yet exist:

Products were being announced before they were even designed, let alone built, and the magazines supported the practice. Popular Electronics had passed off an empty box as the original Altair and a mock-up as the Processor Technology Sol in a couple of its cover stories. The journalistic excesses were probably harmless, but ads used the same technique. Byte’s Carl Helmers said, “I’m not saying [the technique was] legitimate, but it’s certainly one that’s used all over the place in technology. A product may be there to show in so-called functional simulation form, and that functional simulation is one step toward making the thing actually happen.”

In a sense, this was possibly one of the earliest forms of crowd-funding. Adverts for computer components (and whole computers in some cases) were placed well in advance of production methods or resource being in place to build real units. If enough units were sold, then the product was made. If not, then the product failed.

My father fell foul of one of these. He bought a replacement keyboard for his ZX Spectrum from a mail order company. The keyboard arrived but failed to work. Before he could mail it back, the company went in to liquidation.

This drew an odd parallel to a relatively modern concept – crowd-funding. Adverts and pitches made that people buy in to on the promise of a delivered product. Except that unlike these early practices, modern crowd-funding on the whole attempts to be transparent about the current state of a product at the time of a campaign.