There is an entire website - failblog.org - dedicated to such screw-ups, which most commonly consist of humorous trips, slips and accidental double entendres. Needless to say, it's one of the web's most popular attractions.
Now, however, thanks to Twitter, the term FAIL is more often being applied to brands that fall short of consumer expectations. As we reveal on page 6, in the past month Apple has been linked to the '#FAIL' hashtag on social networking sites and blogs more than any other brand.
There has been the iPhone 4 debacle, of course, but the level of negative sentiment seems strange, especially given the success of the iPad, more than 3m of which have been sold since launch in April.
Initially, the trouble with the iPad was that consumers didn't necessarily know what to do with it once they got it home. Once again, Apple had created a niche, and it would take consumers time to catch up. These early frustrations have now passed and people are starting to understand where tablet devices can fit into their lives.
Cue a host of copycat gadgets from the likes of Intel, Microsoft and Samsung, which, as we explain on the front page, is preparing a marketing blitz to back the launch of its Galaxy tablet.
While the time is right for rival devices to enter the market, Apple is already synonymous with the touchscreen tablet in the same way that its iPod has become shorthand for MP3 player and its iPhone redefined the mobile handset.
With this in mind, any brand hoping to rival the iPad will have to create a strong point of differentiation, or risk notching up a FAIL of their own.