I think you are right about the strategy ICOs wanted which is early adoption but those investors were not interested in using the protocol. They were mostly speculators who wanted to purchase the tokens for financial gain. Also, most of the time the protocol was not completed so it was a sale of a token that did not exist (ie: ERC-20) and that is not a pre-sale.
The SEC was correct in being clear about tokens being mostly securities. Companies who need capital should raise it by selling equity or debt. Thereafter when the protocol is ready, they can sell tokens to potential users not investors.