Boys between the ages of 8 and 12 like things that straddle the line between imagination and reality: goofy scenarios that take place in the real world, or realistic situations unfolding in an imaginary world. Fonstein notes that when she holds focus groups with this age range, at least half the boys regularly cite Geico ads -- with the talking gecko -- as their favorite commercials.

Despite hand-wringing from their grandparents, boys aren't completely attached to the Sony ( SNE) PlayStation or Nintendo Wii. According to the market research firm Packaged Facts, almost 40% of 9- to 11-year-old boys say video games are their main way of having fun. But about 60% of boys in that age range also read comic books regularly.

That familiarity with comics should be good news for Disney as it evaluates the profit potential of Marvel's heroes. One of the most impressive aspects of the Disney's marketing is how it spins off its properties. Disney Princesses, a repackaging of characters from classic animated films, became the best-selling girl's brand in the world. Soon, new royalty will be added to the lineup: Tiana, star of the upcoming The Princess and the Frog (and the first African-American princess), and Rapunzel, who gets her own movie next year.

Disney also has a strong product lineup aimed at younger boys. Its animated TV series Handy Manny has branched out into a successful line of toys, and the upcoming movie Toy Story 3 is expected to be a smash, in theaters as well as retail.

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