Viewers watching Food Network's Chopped in recent weeks may have raised some eyebrows at commercials running in-between the show's cloche-lift cliffhangers.

Alongside spots for kitchen tools and home goods, the channel has been running commercials for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign touting his “Great American Comeback” messaging. While TV has long been the focal point of political ad spend, niche cable networks like Food Network or HGTV have not traditionally been a heavy focus for campaigns, who have preferred to funnel cash to local markets in swing states.

The novel coronavirus pandemic, combined with an expanded political map, is forcing campaigns to think outside the box (or in the case of Chopped, outside the mystery box) when it comes to where to spend their advertising dollars. While cable news and local TV in swing states remain a mainstay, the Trump and Biden campaigns are also looking elsewhere for a solid return-on-investment, hence, the Trump campaign’s unexpected ad buy on Discovery Inc.’s Food Network. 

While the Trump campaign is hoping to reach the suburbs with food TV, the Biden campaign is hoping to reach Republicans and independents unhappy with the current administration through creative ad buys of its own.

In an internal Biden campaign memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the campaign’s director of paid media Patrick Bonsignore outlined a “playing offense” strategy, including “buying programs like daytime Fox News and NASCAR to get in front of a large volume of Obama/Trump voters.”

“Buying advertising in unexpected environments is a strategy that we employ oftentimes to get our client’s message to stand out more,” says Jim Gaither, the brand media/group head at the Dallas-based ad agency The Richards Group. “In the case of politics, advertising in an opponent's perceived stronghold like Biden in Fox News or NASCAR is employed to reach those Republicans that may be disenchanted with Trump’s performance or messaging.”

“Similarly, the Trump campaign wants to reach those groups that research is indicating they are losing like suburban women ... to point out Biden’s weaknesses and tout the strength of pre-COVID economy,” he adds.

Indeed, in the case of the Food Network buy, it appears to be all about the suburbs.

According to the advertising tracking platform iSpot, Food Network made up 5.9 percent of the Trump campaign’s share of voice (an advertising metric gauging a brand's visibility on specific platforms) through June 25, mostly on its popular competition shows like Chopped, Guy’s Grocery Games and Beat Bobby Flay. A source familiar with the matter says that Discovery has received interest from both sides of the political aisle, with its reach of two out of every three female TV viewers an alluring proposition for campaigns.

But it isn’t just NASCAR and food TV. Campaigns have expressed interest in a number of channels that have not previously been heavy targets of political campaigns, including Bravo and A&E. While spend is primarily on linear TV, the buys include digital video advertising as well, at least in some cases.

Advertising Analytics and Cross Screen Media project that $2.2 billion will be spent during the 2020 general election campaign, with local broadcast and cable being the biggest beneficiaries, as usual. So far, Advertising Analytics estimates that $395 million has been spent on the general election campaign, leaving some $1.8 billion up for grabs between now and November.

In total (including house, senate, primary and local races), the firms project that more than more than $6.7 billion will be spent on campaign ads this cycle.

“When you run the analytics on the programming you can find the audiences,” says Michael Beach, the CEO of the marketing analytics firm Cross Screen Media. “If you are looking for swing-voting females with a college education or higher, you can get into networks that really over-index with that target.”

For the Biden camp, it is all about reaching those swing voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, but switched to Trump in 2016.

“We’re offering a positive case for Biden, and in this initial effort we are not only bringing it to states that Trump won in 2016, but nationally to Fox News to the Obama/Trump voters he so desperately seeks to keep,” Bonsignore writes in the memo.

Buying on Fox News doesn’t necessarily mean spending money on Tucker Carlson Tonight or Hannity, of course. The Biden campaign notes that Fox’s dayside programming has a different focus than its primetime shows, some of which (like Carlson’s program) are being targeted by advertising boycotts.

As the campaigns push on, and the pandemic rages on, advertising watchers expect even more creative media buys, particularly once available local ad inventory dwindles after Labor Day.

“I think you will see [political] ads in places that people have never seen before in TV,” Beach predicts.