Q&A: Rafael Augusto on Creating ‘James Jefferson’ – One of the World’s Most Shameless Fraudsters

Created by Leo Burnett Dubai, James Jefferson is the star of a public service campaign to raise awareness of financial scams, such as the fictional “How to grow rich during the pandemic.”

In a clever campaign created during Covid lockdowns, Emirates NBD – one of the leading banks in the Middle East – decided it had a responsibility to alert people to an alarming rise in fraudsters. This led to the creation of James Jefferson, the world’s most shameless fraudster.

In February 2021, Emirates NBD unleashed James Jefferson on the world – an author, artist, and actor who is spruiking his new book, ‘How to Grow Rich During the Pandemic’. Some people were intrigued, some were horrified, and later, when James was revealed to be a fake, relieved.


Created by Leo Burnett Dubai, James Jefferson is the star of a public service campaign that warns of the many ways that fraudsters target the financially vulnerable. By taking a satirical approach to public service advertising, ‘How to Grow Rich During the Pandemic’ has been hugely impactful. The campaign has earned $2.1 million in media value to date, while Emirates NBD’s brand recall rose by 3.6% and 12.2 million people have actively engaged with the campaign.

The campaign went on to recently win Silver at Dubai Lynx.

Branding in Asia caught up with Rafael Augusto, Executive Creative Director at Publicis Middle East, about the challenges of creating a larger-than-life character to star in a year-long campaign. Brought to life by a team of dedicated creatives and championed by Emirates NBD, James Jefferson continues to live on today through his book, ‘How to Grow Rich During the Pandemic’, which is in fact an anti-fraud handbook that’s available online.

Can you tell us about the original brief: why did Emirates NBD want to take a stance against phishing and fraud?

Phishing attacks rose by an alarming 250% in the UAE during the pandemic. Fraudsters were using new Covid-19 tricks to steal people’s money, and people were not aware of these new tricks. As the UAE’s largest bank, Emirates NBD decided to educate people about these tricks and protect their money.


Why did you decide to invent a character, James Jefferson, as the face for this campaign?

James Jefferson’s character is a blend of the personalities of real fraudsters that we read up about during our research. They had flamboyant lifestyles, showed off their lavish homes, and behaved as super-rich businessmen. Before these fraudsters got caught, they actually believed the image they had created for themselves.

Some people were actually impressed by his wealth and lifestyle. Others found him funny and ridiculous, but still oddly mysterious. The announcement about the launch of the book got people intrigued, but they were soon shocked to find out James Jefferson’s truth a few days later. Some were upset, others relieved.

Was it difficult persuading your client, Emirates NBD, to take this approach?

It’s natural to have a few doubts in the beginning when it comes to an approach like this one. There were discussions about whether it was okay to glorify a fraudster’s lifestyle – especially someone that promises to teach you to become rich. On the other hand, a lot of people were looking for ways to make extra money during the pandemic. We used this mindset to plant our idea into people’s minds.

“Online fraudsters come across as polished individuals but have a very cunning intellect. So, instead of casting someone who clearly looked like a criminal, we chose someone who looked benign, even amusing, in person, but whose actions were despicable.”

We have an amazing client who understood our logic and supported us to bring the rest of the elements of the campaign to life over the course of an entire year.

Can you tell us how you brought James to life: how far did you take his character and back story?

When we began our search for James Jefferson, little did we know that we would end up casting someone who has acted in Season 3 of The Crown. We believed that a fraudster is a dangerous person but doesn’t necessarily look like one. Online fraudsters come across as polished individuals but have a very cunning intellect. So, instead of casting someone who clearly looked like a criminal, we chose someone who looked benign, even amusing, in person, but whose actions were despicable. Our search ended in London, where after several rounds of auditions we finally found our fraudster – actor David Rees Talbot.

One year on, the campaign now includes six podcasts, a live game show, a self-help ‘book’ and a website. Was this always designed to be a year-long campaign?

Yes. A hero film is not enough to educate people about fraud. So, we worked on ideas to reach them across different touchpoints. Apart from the executions already mentioned, we also turned people’s most frequently asked questions about fraud into our own version of FAQs – Fraudster Answers Questions, which featured a handcuffed James Jefferson answering the most-asked questions. We even created an AR filter to gamify learning about frauds.

What’s next for James in 2022: will he feature in any new campaigns, books, or installments?

The story of James Jefferson ends in 2022, but his legacy will live on through his book, ‘How to Grow Rich During the Pandemic’, ha! Hopefully, we will get to offer something different, exciting, and edgy in the next anti-phishing campaign for Emirates NBD that beats James Jefferson’s unlikely popularity.

What can you tell us about the creative culture in Dubai – what are the biggest misconceptions about this market? How does living there inspire you creatively?

From the sidelines, Dubai or the UAE may seem like a place that is only about the tallest, the biggest, the largest, the fastest, and so on. But once you get to know the rich history of this place, the leadership, the culture, the traditions, you realize it is a gold mine of unique insights that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. For example, did you know that women make up 50% of the UAE’s parliament? It is the number one country in the world when it comes to female representation in parliament.

And the creative culture at Leo Burnett Dubai?

It is a vibrant place buzzing with creative people from across the world. There is a ‘no hierarchy’ policy in the creative department which gives anyone the freedom to share their idea directly with the head of the creative department.

You can learn more at www.jjj-jefferson.com or follow on Instagram here.

Campaign Credits

Client: Emirates NBD
Agency: Leo Burnett
Chief Creative Officer: Kalpesh Patankar
Executive Creative Director: Rafael Augusto
Senior Copywriter: Farhan Siddiqui
Art Director: Aditi Shah
Head Of Arabic: Shadi Kermasho
Senior Arabic Copywriter: Haytham Lamah
Head of A/V Production: Shereen Mustafa
Agency Producer: Judy Lamaa
Planning Director: Pooja Beri
Junior Planner: Lama Mosallem
COO & CDO: Samer Shoueiry
Deputy Managing Director: Joelle Jammal
Group Communication Director: Sonal Chaddha
Communication Manager: Soraya Jomaa
Production House: Dejavu
Executive Producer: Manasvi Gosalia
Director: Nalle Sjöblad
DOP: Pasi Pauni
Producer: Steve Gergess, Kaan Acemiand Ogan Kockan
Post Producer: Mary bou Akl
Production Designers: Arzu Kadakand Cem Ece
Casting Director: Kharmel Cochrane and Tugce Sagmanli
Stylist: Secilay Dogan
Sound Engineer: Akseli Soini
Editor: Johannes Salonen and Rizwan Maple
Color Grading: Grade One Helsinki
Online: Pradosh Chandran and Kevin Vincent
Social images: Shutterstock

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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