Key Points:

Electoral Commission members are apparently divided over whether party logos can be regarded as an election advertisement under the Electoral Finance Act 2007. They are waiting on a Crown Law opinion on the relationship between logos and election advertisements.

According to Electoral Commission chief executive Helena Catt, this is a "pressing issue but it is not an easy issue, so we have to work through differing views".

This is in fact a very simple issue. Without question, logos are election advertisements in terms of the definition contained in the Electoral Finance Act.

What is inconvenient is the ramification. Once it is acknowledged that party logos are election advertisements, the Electoral Finance Act will be rendered absolutely, unequivocally dead in the water.

The act defines an election advertisement as any form of words or graphics, or both, that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a party/ies or candidate/s.

Conforming to the first part of the definition, a logo is a symbol that may be constituted out of words and/or graphics. It is the most condensed form of graphic image and contains many layers of meaning communicated through the use of colour, type and line.

A logo is also persuasive, thereby conforming to the second part of the definition of an election advertisement. Persuasion does not have to be a literal or loud call to action.

It is often a subtle, symbolic process in which logos are harnessed by persuaders to define preferences, change attitudes, and mould opinions. Think of instantly recognisable logos like Coca-Cola or the McDonald's golden arches.

These are not benign shapes, haplessly sitting on cans or buildings. They instantly identify their product, offering, experience or ideas to customers and competitors in a crowded marketplace.

They demand attention and command trust, and through repeated exposure embed themselves in our consciousness for retrieval at times when we are feeling hungry or thirsty. How does a logo encourage or persuade voters to vote, or not to vote?

Like commercial logos, political party logos work by repeated exposure and association with people, events and messages that have as their fundamental purpose to attract reinforce, convert and/or mobilise voter behaviour.

The party logo encapsulates the essence of the party. When voters enter the ballot box and are confronted with the party logo on the ballot sheet, they retrieve their feelings about that party and make a choice to give that party their tick - or not, if the feelings are negative.

Once it is acknowledged that a party logo is an advertisement, the implications are immense. Every instance of that logo must be accompanied by the name and address of the promoter, and the expenses that went into its creation must be counted against a party's expenditure limit. Think about where you might have seen party logos already this year. On stationery, cars, electorate offices, pens, backdrops at party conferences, banners.

Most of this does not contain authorisation. (That's something that would take up more space than a ballpoint pen would even have available on its surface!) And so every political party has already contravened the Electoral Finance Act.

Whatever tinkering the Government may do to definitions of advertisements contained in this legislation before or after the next election, nothing will be resolved until the Government accepts that everything that political parties do at all moments of the electoral cycle is electioneering, and that there is no difference between parliamentary and party communications.

* Dr Claire Robinson is head of Massey University's Institute of Communication Design.