Light To Unite 2006

Light to Unite is an annual campaign created by Bristol-Myers Squibb to raise awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in the U.S. The site raises money by allowing visitors to light a candle. For every person who completed this simple act, BMS donated $1 (up to $100,000) to the National AIDS Fund.

The site also allows visitors to read stories about the epidemic, share their own stories and increase the impact of BMS’s contribution by making additional donations to the cause.

During the roughly 7-week campaign which started on World AIDS Day, more than 1.8 million candles were lit – which is all the more impressive when you realize that the majority of the site’s traffic came from word-of-mouth and not paid media.

SML Roles

  • Creative Direction / Art Direction / Lead Design
  • Interaction Design + Flash prototyping

Interactive Demo:



Awards & Recognition

Step Inside Design: Best of Web: Winning Sites

Light is a metaphor for hope and knowledge,” says Gregg Fisher, vice president of Health and Life Sciences Practice at IconNicholson. So it only seems appropriate that the firm developed an interactive candlelighting experience for the 2006 Light to Unite website. This annual campaign from Bristol-Myers Squibb raises awareness—as well as funds—for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention in the U.S. “When people start to think about AIDS, they often think about Africa,” says See-ming Lee, art director and senior interface engineer. “It’s still a very serious disease in the United States.”

This fact was reinforced as soon as visitors logged onto the site. During the roughly seven-week campaign, which started on World AIDS Day, users found themselves facing an unlit candle against a dark background, with only a lit match to help them navigate the screen. As they moved the flame around, they illuminated startling statistics about HIV’s spread in the U.S., and these facts all became visible once users lit their candles. For every person who completed this simple act, Bristol-Myers Squibb donated $1 (up to $100,000) to the National AIDS Fund. Site visitors could also give additional funds.

Fisher says the project is a great example of what happens when you give power over to a community and let it take control. The majority of the site’s traffic came from people who found out about the effort through word-of-mouth online—not paid media. This becomes all the more impressive when you realize that more than 1.8 million candles were lit during this relatively brief effort. And through the first week of January 2007, more than 8000 people signed up for the site’s newsletter—and there were more than 200,000 requests to send the site to a friend. “It’s taken on a life of its own,” Fisher says. “Light to Unite is spreading life, spreading awareness, spreading knowledge.”

After lighting a candle, visitors could learn more about the personal impact of HIV/AIDS through the site’s user-generated stories. These short, emotional snippets were submitted through last year’s Light to Unite site, and they’re each represented by a burning candle. “We spent two weeks trying to animate a candle to make it look real,” Lee says. “Every single flame is animated differently.” This attention to detail heightens the experience as you navigate through individual stories or explore them by broad themes ranging from courage and fear to family—and the stories are still accessible now that the campaign has concluded.

Michelle Taute

WWW Health Award Silver

WMA Web Awards Outstanding Website


According to a Facebook group which is not affiliated with the project, here were the stats upon launch:

Date Candles Lit
2006-11-13 2,349
2006-11-14 5,716
2006-11-15 8,112
2006-11-16 10,070
2006-11-18 14,147
2006-11-19 15,933
2006-11-23 30,180
2006-11-26 68,879
2006-12-04 649,224
2006-12-08 1,117,469
2006-12-xx 1,385,831
2006-12-xx 1,523,680
2007-01-21 1,770,580

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