From what I have seen, there is just as much reason to believe that it is a purposeful event than a simple glitch.
In terms of navigational searches, brand and statistical patterns of link profiles, my only issue with this theory is how Google would apply this factor to a business that does not have a unique name online, for example widgets.com, where widgets is a competitive keyword.
How would Google be able to segment off inbound link anchors that appear to be naturally built via buzz or public interest, even in a burst, when the inbound keywords for 'brand' also represent the competitive keyword in question?
To be honest, I have seen link wheels done brilliantly, and in my estimation, those appear to have worked for the couple of references I looked at. Again, they were comprised of very well written content that actually attracted links on it its own. As well, all of the usual items like hub score / referencing authorities need to be observed.