Image: Trimspa van
Mike Derer  /  AP
A TrimSpa van, with a depiction of Anna Nicole Smith and the words "Be Envied" printed on the side, sits in the parking lot of TrimSpa headquarters in Whippany, N.J., Friday.
updated 2/9/2007 7:40:57 PM ET 2007-02-10T00:40:57

In the lobby of TrimSpa’s headquarters, framed clippings of tabloid newspapers trumpet Anna Nicole Smith’s weight loss. Smith is also shown smiling in banner ads featuring photographs before and after her extreme weight loss.

A red van bearing Smith’s likeness was parked Friday outside the weight-loss supplement company’s office in north Jersey.

With Smith’s death Thursday, the company, recently the subject of class lawsuits and a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, has lost its high-profile spokeswoman.

Smith, who lost a significant amount of weight in recent years, made several commercials and appeared on television promoting TrimSpa’s weight-loss products. How the privately held company operates without its star spokeswoman, often a tabloid staple, is unclear.

The company had no immediate comment on the death of its celebrity spokeswoman, who was found in a Florida hotel room. A spokeswoman, Robin Bonnema, did not return several calls to The Associated Press.

Smith’s death poses a problem for TrimSpa, said University of Maryland professor Roland T. Rust, chairman of the marketing department.

“They probably need a complete change of pace, moving away from the celebrity focus, especially the celebrity focus on her,” Rust said. “The absolute worst thing they could do would be to run her ads. The second-worst thing they could do is run ads with someone who looks like her.”

Rust said other companies have recovered from the loss of their “face,” notably hamburger chain Wendy’s International Inc., whose founder and pitchman Dave Thomas died of liver cancer in 2002 after appearing in over 800 television ads.

“Wendy’s seems to have handled that just fine, even though he was the prime spokesman for them,” Rust said.

The next step in strategy will depend on how she died, said Stephen A. Greyser, a Harvard Business School professor who specializes in corporate communications and marketing strategy.

He said that if there is no clear explanation for the death, the company may want to move away from using Smith for promotions.

“At that point they have a fork in the road,” Greyser said. “Either find a new face for the company or go in a different strategic direction.”

Prescription drugs were found in Smith’s hotel room, but there were no pills in her stomach, and investigators in Florida said Friday they are awaiting tests that would tell whether the former centerfold died of an overdose, as some close to her suspect.

TrimSpa, a subsidiary of Goen Technologies Corp., posted a message and photos on its Web site after Smith’s death Thursday.

“Anna Nicole Smith’s grief stricken and tumultuous personal life came to an end,” said a message on the Web site from TrimSpa CEO Alex Goen. “Anna came to our company as a customer, but she departs it as a friend. While life for Anna Nicole was not easy these past few months, she held dear her husband, Howard K. Stern, her daughter, Dannielynn Hope, her most cherished friends, beloved dogs, and finally, her work with TrimSpa.”

“... We pray that she is granted the peace that eluded her more recent days on earth,” the message said.

Goen was out of the country Friday and unavailable for comment.

TrimSpa has run into trouble over some of its product claims. Just this month, Smith and TrimSpa were named in a class-action lawsuit alleging their marketing of a weight-loss pill is false or misleading.

Last month, the FTC announced TrimSpa would pay $1.5 million to settle allegations that the company’s weight-loss claims were unsubstantiated.

TrimSpa released a statement following the announcement saying it supported actions to clean up the weight-loss industry, but disputed the federal agency’s allegation that a handful of TrimSpa advertisements that ran in 2003 and 2004 had insufficient substantiation.

TrimSpa also disagreed with any inference that its product has no scientific support.

TrimSpa’s parent company, Goen Technologies, and other affiliates have been the subject of lawsuits by the shareholders and complaints by the state of New Jersey.

In 2003, New Jersey’s attorney general sued Goen Seminars Institute Inc., alleging that it used a bait-and-switch advertising scheme that claimed hypnosis could help people lose weight or stop smoking without gaining weight.

Goen Technologies in 2005, paid $750,000 to settle those claims.

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