CHICAGO (AP) _ Don't touch that dial! No matter where you turn it, you're bound to find a new Snapple ad anyway as Quaker Oats Co. launches an advertising blitz aimed at thrusting the tea-and-juice drinks line back into the spotlight.

Quaker on Monday unveiled the first of five new commercials that take the unusual step of proclaiming ``We want to be No. 3!''

Gone completely is Wendy Kaufman, a longtime Snapple employee who played The Snapple Lady in television ads. Instead, quirky, humorous spots pay homage to industry leaders Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCola Co. while celebrating Snapple as the best alternative to the two.

``This is not really about going head-to-head with our competition; it's just the opposite,'' said Margaret Stender, Quaker vice president of marketing. ``Snapple is all about being the best, not necessarily the biggest.''

Stender declined to reveal how much the campaign cost, saying only that Quaker ``spared no expense'' for the new multimedia campaign, which features saturation television and radio coverage. Print ads and an under-the-cap promotion also were planned for the first time in Snapple history, moves that illustrate the depth of the company's commitment to improving Snapple's bottom line.

Snapple, which started as a fruit juice maker, pioneered the flavored tea market in 1987 when it perfected a way to bottle hot-brewed tea instead of simply mixing cold concentrate or powders.

Quaker bought the company in 1994 for $1.7 billion, but immediately ran into troubles with distribution and bottling just as the market for the so-called new-age teas went flat.

Industry analysts say Snapple lost between $35 million and $40 million for Quaker Oats last year, and the line's poor performance resulted in the resignation of Quaker president Phillip Martineau in October 1995.

Quaker took a $30 million charge late last year to restructure the Snapple line, introducing new labels and containers and perfecting distribution. The changes will help Snapple post double-digit growth in the Quaker's first quarter, Stender said. The company is expected to detail that growth when it reports earnings April 25.

But Snapple's bid to become the nation's third-best selling beverage drink company won't come easy. Dr. Pepper/Cadbury-Schweppes maintains a strong third-place presence, while Pepsi is boosting its Lipton brand of flavored teas with a new celebrity ad campaign.

Lipton now holds about 39 percent of the ready-to-drink tea market, compared to Snapple's 22 percent, making it unlikely Snapple can overtake the leader in 1996, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest, an industry publication.

``It's going to be a competitive situation for many years to come,'' Sicher said.

Stender said Quaker is optimistic Snapple has room for substantial growth, particularly in its diet teas line where sales represent only 8 percent to 10 percent of volume compared to an industry average of about 28 percent.

Quaker plans to show the 30 seconds ads at all hours of the day on the major television networks, beginning Monday night during Fox's ``Melrose Place'' with ``Anthem,'' a commercial directed by Spike Lee.

The ad features high school bands and cheerleaders in a parade in San Diego, the nation's third-most popular tourist destination. The slogan ``Threedom Freedom'' also is introduced as a voice-over says being No. 3 gives Snapple the freedom to provide drinks ``made from the best stuff on earth.'' After two weeks, other commercials will be rotated into the mix, including one that features the return of the original Mikey, the little boy who ``hates everything,'' but loves Quaker's Life cereal.

Using digital techniques employed in the movie ``Forest Gump,'' Mikey this time around is tasting Snapple, which, in a refreshing twist, he doesn't like. The ad points out not everyone is going to like a particular Snapple product and points to 46 other flavors to try.

Another commercial has trendy gallery-goers sipping Snapple's new Somoan Splash with cupuacu (pronounced koo-PWA-sue), a Brazilian melon. The new emphasis on diet drinks also is highlighted with a commercial that has sock puppets searching space, ``The Ultimate Frontier,'' for other diet flavors to complement Snapple's current six-drink line.