Commericals are the end-all and be-all of corporate television and radio broadcasting, and, therefore, an awful lot of them exist. You may occasionally have an awareness of the sheer number of commercials programmed in, say, one hour of television or radio. "Wow!", you might say. "It certainly seems like there are a lot of commercials!" There are, in fact, greatly more than one consumer could possibly be aware of.

Assume, for every spot you see or hear, that there are:

  • Several versions of differing lengths
  • Versions with minor audio or picture changes (including different disclaimer and/or legal copy)
  • Different versions for various regional markets
  • versions that never made it to air

etc. A typical commercial for national broadcast that I work on has at least a thirty-second, a sixty-second, and a not-for-air version. In addition, there may or may not be cutdowns and/or other minor changes done later, resulting in the above list.

Now, the kicker is that someone, somehow, must keep track of all of this. The traffic departments of the advertising agencies, the media buying people at the company being advertised, and the services which actually distribute the spots to the networks must all be absolutely sure they are referring to the same finished commercial. Screwups mean potential fines, not to mention lawsuits and other various monetary and legal nastinesses.

Using the title can be confusing. Creation dates are similarly unhelpful. The solution (or a solution, anyway) is to give everything a code. An ISCI code.

"ISCI" is pronounced "iss kee", and stands for Industry Standard Coding Identification. The code itself is a string of eight characters; usually four letters and four numbers. For example, the ISCI code for the Greater New York Toyota Dealer's Association's February Event commercial entitled "Camry Financing", thirty seconds in length, Full Version (you, the viewer, would call this "a Toyota commercial") is TLCM 4100. FleetBoston Financial Corporation's "How 'Bout Now" spot, thirty seconds in length, is coded YFSH2303. Sometimes there is a space between the letters and numbers, sometimes not.

This system was invented by geneaologist and advertising executive David Dole in 1970, but is now owned by the Association of National Advertisers and maintained by the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Agencies submit scripts to the AAAA, who assign ISCI codes to the potential commercial. In general, clients or specific products will tend to have the same four alphabetic characters for every spot they commission. The numeric characters change for each spot.

The finished master of a television commercial has a slate before each spot on the videotape. This slate is what ultimately identifies the spot in question, and has the name of the agency, the name of the client, the title of the spot, the length, and the all-important ISCI code.

And, hence, order from chaos.

Thanks to and, and my time thus far spent working in advertising.