Polish Żubrówka becomes Żu in the US

Here's a nice read that can appeal to all those who like to dig into intricate issues of international branding. The cult Polish alcoholic drink, Żubrówka, has finally made its way to the US market, the Wall Street Journal reports. This is big news for the Polish brand which will be able to market its product on the potentially lucrative US market.  However, the Żubrówka you might know -- the kind that comes with a thin leaf of mysterious bison grass in it -- which gives the drink that strong particular taste (the Żubrówka taste) -- will have a different version in the US. So different, that the question is -- can it still be referred to as Żubrówka?

zubrowkaŻubrówka has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration for many years due to the presence in it of a toxic chemical, coumarin. Apparently, the source of coumarin is the bison grass. Polish scientists struggled for years to get the grass-less  Żubrówka to taste like the real stuff, and they've finally made a new concoction work for them.

From a branding perspective, Żubrówka's entry in the US was complicated. The US authorities referred to Żubrówka as a generic drink, which led to many fake Żubrówka look-alikes appear on the market.  So, the challenge was to find another name as a trade mark.  This was viewed as an opportunity as the new name -- Żu -- is also potentially easier for Americans to pronounce. It also contains a bison-inspired reference to the animal world, as Żu is supposed to signal "zoo".  I am not sure if bisons are typical zoo residents, and I am not convinced that those who try the drink for the first time, would ever pick up this link between zoos, wild Polish forests and bisons. But the name choice is made, and the drink has entered the US market.

What are the implications of launching a brand that is well-known in one geography, in another, under a different name? Is the new brand name a good choice to support the launch of grass-less drink? Do the Żu marketers need to promote the Żubrówka heritage in Żu brand communications?