Nike shoes, Burger King, and Colgate Toothpaste are.
So are France, Italy, O.J. Simpson, Abraham Lincoln, lawyers, plumbers, James Bond movies, Little League baseball, Batman, Superman, Christianity, Judaism, Harvard, Notre Dame, the Beatles, the Royal Family, Greenpeace, Green Giant, NBA, and NRA - not to mention the sound of a violin versus the sound of a country banjo. Close your eyes, picture the American flag, and free associate for three seconds. Now do the Nazi flag.
Real brands are an amazingly efficient mental magic trick where a few words, a symbol, or even a sound triggers an instant snapshot that's totally distinguishable from a million others residing in our heads - one composite photo distilled from every message, touch, and experience we've ever had with the item in question. We have an unlimited capacity to file such brands in our trillion-neuron brains. They simply have to fit the right format for entry, storage, and retrieval.
Nothing says you have to be a commercial product to function as a real brand in the collective mind. You just need two requirements, both simple and profound: You need an exclusive name that's attached to an exclusive idea of value - the more believable and emotional, the better