Why use logos? It’s an easy enough question to which the easy answer is to sell a product – or whatever else the logo represents.
There must however, be a more difficult answer because the Electoral Commission has spent two months looking at whether or not the Labour logo on a balloon constitutes an advertisement and has now referred the matter for a Crown Law opinion.
Dr Claire Robinson, head of Massey University’s Institute of Communciation Design doesn’t need to consult the lawyers.
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.
Quite. Why else would a party put its logo on a balloon, or anything else, including the ballot paper?
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.
And how would they recognise that logo had they not already been familiar with it and how would they become familiar with it if it was not advertising the party?
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.
If all parties are going to be in the same boat, does it matter? Yes, because bad, draconian and undemocratic though the law may be, it is the law and most parties are doing their best to abide by it. The trouble is no-one is sure exactly what that means, and until that is ascertained every party is in danger of breaking the law, and so too is any other group or individual who wish to campaign.