Unilever spent millions on its Lynx ‘angels’. But the most memorable ad of 2011 was a more modest affair, featuring a batty, snooping old lady flying about in her pinny.

Aunt Bessie’s scooped the top spot in a Nielsen consumer survey commissioned by The Grocer of the most effective ads of the year with a 30-second spot featuring Margaret and Mabel spying on a family about to tuck into Homestyle Roast Potatoes.

The research by Nielsen scored every fmcg advert aired in the past 12 months on two criteria: how well viewers recalled the brand being advertised (general recall) and how memorable it was (brand linkage). The top-scoring ads for each of the 64 categories covered by The Grocer’s Top Products Survey were then ranked to determine the most successful overall.

“Scoring well on both criteria is vital,” said Nielsen TV brand effect VP Darren Moore. “Many ads resonate with viewers but are wrongly attributed to competitor brands. Other times, ads may have great branding but struggle to get people remembering the actual spot.”

The Aunt Bessie’s ad - created by agency VCCP Blue - ticked many of the key boxes for what makes a good ad, including a story, characters and humour.

“We used fun and creative characters Margaret and Mabel to help convey the message that Aunt Bessie’s frozen potatoes can help deliver home-style family meals,” said Martin Driver, marketing controller for Aunt Bessie’s frozen potatoes. “The humorous characters resonated so well with consumers, it’s easy to see why the ads stuck in peoples’ minds.”

Despite the winning advertising, however, sales of Aunt Bessie’s Homestyle Roast Potatoes have fallen 5.8% by value year-on-year - but the brand’s overall frozen potato portfolio has grown 12.8%.

Foster’s lager, which took second place in our survey, enjoyed 7.3% value growth - far ahead of the 2.1% growth for the lager category as a whole.

Foster’s attributes its strong performance to humour. “There are a lot of cues in the Brad and Dan ads that strengthen association with the brand - as soon as people see the blue skies and the beach, and hear the phone ring, it couldn’t be advertising anything else,” said Gayle Harrison, marketing manager for Foster’s.

Volvic sales fell 2.1% by value despite scoring highly for its volcano ad.

PepsiCo had greater reason to rejoice as the combination of Gary Lineker and Elle MacPherson with a Phil Collins soundtrack combined to create our fourth-placed ad, which helped its Walkers Crinkles brand bludgeon its way into the top 20 bagged snacks table with sales of almost £30m.